Car lights of the future have many functions. One of the most important: they enable autonomous vehicles to communicate with their environment.

In the car of tomorrow, today’s drivers will become passengers. After the door is automatically unlocked, they will be welcomed individually because the vehicle will use infrared LEDs to identify the passenger by iris scanning or facial recognition. Once it has adjusted personal preferences such as the seat position, the passenger can sit back and relax. Or do other things because the car will drive autonomously. But how will we communicate with semi-autonomous or even driverless cars, and how will these cars communicate with their environment?

Light as a language

Today, a pedestrian waiting to cross the street makes eye contact with drivers and interprets a driver’s gestures as “go” or “stop.” But passengers in tomorrow’s driver’s seat will be reading their emails or newspaper and leaving steering to the autopilot. How will pedestrians then recognize when it is safe to cross the road, and how will cars know when they need to stop? “We need a new kind of communication,” says Stephan Hartmann, Head of Automotive Marketing at OSRAM Opto Semiconductors. “Light signals instead of eye contact and small gestures will signal to the pedestrian in the future: ‘I have seen you – you can now cross the street.’

From trafficators to lighting signals

“We won’t be reinventing communication for this though,” explains Hartmann. “For autonomous vehicles, we are simply taking a means of communication that has become established across the world over decades and developing it further.” In the early days, manual “signals” and “metal direction indicators” that were simply held out of the window were used when turning. It was only in the 1950s that electric indicators came along. “Today, we know a lot about the basic functions of turn signals and brake lights and the related color codes. “This is what we are building on,” says Hartmann. “The technical development of the LED in combination with lasers and sensors allows us to do much more than just turn an indicator “on” and “off.” By adding new colors and capabilities to classic lighting functions, we are taking communication to the next level.”

Car lights send messages

This means that car lighting is much more than illumination. “The car lights of tomorrow will send messages. They will ensure safety, guide you and think for themselves because they will be controlled by sensors,” says Hartmann. For example, icons and graphics can be projected onto the road with high-resolution pixel headlights. This means that the self-driving car of the future will combine light signals with text or graphics, signaling not only that it will turn but also showing its underlying intent – for example “I want to park.” In addition, the vehicle will use connected technology to pick up information that is outside the human field of vision. It will transmit it to drivers, pedestrians or the vehicles behind, making roads a safer place.


Distinctive design elements

But the language of lighting and light signals is important not only from a safety point of view. Lighting is image. It is an integral part of a car’s individual brand language. It is no longer just about distinctive headlights – in the future, it will be possible to create new individual shapes and large-format displays. The miniaturization of LEDs and continual technical developments offer designers unlimited possibilities with distinctive lighting accents. “Modern tuning is achieved through lighting – both inside and outside the vehicle. Light is so to say the new spoiler” says Stephan Hartmann. “Cars will be highly standardized in the future. Lighting enables individuality, comfort and communication.”

Lounge feeling

The interior trim will also provide an entirely new driving experience in the car of the future. In a wireless car, you will be driving in your own personal lounge or mobile office. Lighting will be an integral part of the interior and create a feeling of well-being, while passengers and drivers will focus on things other than traffic. With the help of the new intelligent Osire LED solution, a large number of separate LEDs can be controlled individually or in groups, opening up almost unlimited design options: lighting for individual greeting scenarios or soft lighting to relax. But also dynamic, colored lighting effects to draw the passenger’s attention back to traffic for example.

Space for communication

Window areas especially, will not only be an important communication area in terms of autonomous driving. They could be used as interactive displays for entertainment, as a work space for passengers or as advertising space for passers-by.

“In the car of the future lights will take over a variety of functions. For passengers this means relaxation above all,” says Stephan Hartmann, summarizing the development scenarios. The car of tomorrow will know who you are and what you need. It will be where you need it. And, above all, it will bring you from A to B while you relax.”