For the past few years, light-emitting diodes (LED) have been the auto industry’s showcase high-tech headlamps. But that might soon be challenged by lasers, which have just been considered as an exotic toy, as Audi showcased the Sport Quattro Concept that boasts of laser high-beam headlamps this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Audi said that the headlamps’ high beams have a 547-yard range, which is around twice the distance covered by LED high beams. Likewise, lasers are energy efficient but expensive.
The Sport Quattro concept provides a preview of Audi's continuing interest in lasers. At the 2011 Frankfurt auto show, Audi unveiled an A2 concept car bearing laser-powered rear fog lights. Audi noted that its 2014 R18 e-tron Quattro race car will have laser headlamps, but did not detail its production plan for them.
On the other hand, BMW AG also disclosed plans to introduce laser high beams late this year as an option in its i8 plug-in hybrid coupe. The laser high beams, however, will not be available in the United States. Laser diodes are part of a number of energy-saving devices that BMW has integrated into its i8 and i3 models. According to BMW, the i8's laser headlamps use less than half the energy of LEDs.
BMW did not reveal its laser supplier, but Osram Opto Semiconductors Inc. has made heavy investments in laser technology. Sevugan Nagappan, Osram's marketing manager for infrared and laser products, did not say whether they will supply laser diodes to BMW, but remarked the technology is more than an exotic technological toy. "There is definitely interest outside BMW for using laser diodes," Nagappan said, adding that people are looking whether it makes sense or not.