German luxury carmakers BMW and Audi are both planning to introduce laser headlamps this year. BMW Group has disclosed plans to feature laser high beams later this year as an option in its i8 plug-in hybrid coupe, while Audi plans to unveil the Sport Quattro concept, which features laser high-beam headlamps this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
According to Audi, its laser high beams have a range of 500 meters, roughly twice the range of light-emitting diode high beams. Although expensive, lasers are energy efficient. The Sport Quattro provide a glimpse at Audi's interest in lasers, two years after the carmaker unveiled an A2 concept car with laser-powered rear fog lights at the 2011 Frankfurt auto show.
While it did not disclose its production plans for laser headlamps, Audi said that the 2014 R18 E-tron Quattro race car will feature them. On the other hand, laser diodes are one of the energy-saving devices that BMW has integrated in the i8 model. According to BMW, the laser headlamps in the i8 consume less than half the energy of LEDs.
The headlamp of BMW i8 features three small diodes that generate blue laser beams when electricity passes through them. The blue beams are aimed at small mirrors that reflect them onto a lens.
The lens contains yellow phosphorus that release an intense white light when activated by the lasers. That white light will be bounced off a reflector onto the road ahead, thus what is visible is the white light emitted from the lens, not laser beams. BMW said that a laser diode can emit 170 lumens per watt, compared to only 100 lumens generated by LED.