The development of LED lights for automobiles has produced dramatic changes in automotive design. Not only are new head- and taillight shapes possible, but the fairly recent notion of a car having a distinctive “light signature” is becoming commonplace as designers find ways to make cars recognizable even in the dark.

Audi was one of the first marques to adapt a very specific light signature, and it’s poised to stay at the front of the lighting game with the announcement of a concept coming to Frankfurt that uses organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology. Audi says that OLED technology provides a more homogenous, even light than LEDs and can be continuously dimmed. The upcoming concept is teased in a just-released video that tracks the history of automotive lighting from the gas-lit headlamps of brass-era cars all the way through modern LED headlamps, ending with a demonstration of the versatility of OLEDs and a glimpse of the lights on the new concept. Whatever else the upcoming concept has to show off, it’ll also provide a glimpse at the future of Audi’s lighting technology.

That future looks pretty slick. In the short video Audi shows off the OLED lights’ ability to adjust to a wide variety of conditions, changing illumination to suit a wide variety of situations in addition to changing the look of Audi’s cars. After Audi’s successful applications of LED and laser headlights, we can’t wait to see what it’s come up with this time.

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Why it matters

Audi’s OLED lights are flat light sources, rather than individual points of light like LEDs. They consist of multiple layers of organic semiconductors that are illuminated by low-voltage DC. The light doesn’t cast shadows, and requires no reflectors, so they are more compact and lightweight. Audi says its OLEDs also need very little cooling.

The lights are being developed with an eye toward production. BMW used OLED taillights on its 2014 BMW Vision Future Luxury concept, and Audi’s "Matrix OLED" is expected to be much more production-ready, the better to beat BMW to market. Current prototypes use thin glass sheets, and Audi is experimenting with more durable and flexible plastic films that will make it possible to use OLEDs for turn signals and brake lights. Accent lighting could take on a whole new dimension, as OLEDs can be used as a three-dimensional display illuminating the entire silhouette of a car. Multi-colored lights with very precise boundaries are also possible.

Emmy Jackson
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Press Release

Audi is presenting the next step in its pioneering automotive lighting programme at the IAA in Frankfurt. The Vorsprung durch Technik brand is forging ahead with new Matrix OLED lights that open up further creative opportunities for design due to their thin and flat composition and significantly increased homogeneity, which makes them even more adaptable within today’s lighting installations than point light sources like conventional LEDs.

As the leading brand in automotive lighting technology, Audi has systematically developed all aspects of OLED technology over the years. Matrix OLED lights are a perfect synthesis of high-tech engineering and design – initial projects are currently underway to implement OLED technology in production rear lights. They are being shown for the first time in a concept car at the IAA.

In each Organic Light Emitting Diode or OLED unit, two electrodes – of which at least one must be transparent – incorporate numerous thin layers of organic semiconductor materials. A low DC voltage – between three and four volts – activates the layers, each of which is less than one‑thousandth of a millimetre thick, to light them. The colour is based on the molecular composition of the light source.

In contrast to point light sources – such as LEDs – which are made of semiconductor crystals, OLEDs are flat light sources. Their light attains a new level of homogeneity, and its dimming is continuously variable. The lights do not cast any shadows and do not require any reflectors, light guides or similar optical components – and this makes the OLED units efficient and lightweight. In addition, they hardly need any cooling.

Progress in OLED technology is being made rapidly – in part due to the driving force of Audi. As soon as further increases in light density are realised, OLEDs will soon be able to generate turn signal and brake lights too. The thin glass sheets that are used today to encase the organic material will be replaced by plastic films. These new flexible substrate materials will lend themselves to three‑dimensional forming, and this will open up entirely new creative spaces for designers.

Audi has already shown the potential of OLED technology in many models and demonstrators. Special highlights are “OLED lighting” with transparent, multi-colored OLEDs in the silhouette of the car and “the swarm” with a three-dimensional OLED display.

Another benefit of OLEDs is that they can be subdivided into small segments that can be controlled at different brightness levels. In addition, different colours and transparent OLED units will be possible. This enables new lighting scenarios with extremely fast switchover times. The illuminated sub-surfaces exhibit very precise boundaries with one another. This is what distinguishes OLED technology at Audi, transforming it into the Audi Matrix OLED technology that supplements Audi Matrix LED and Matrix Laser technologies for headlights.

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