Solid-state lighting in the automobile: concepts, market timing and performance

Despite the advantages offered by LEDs in automotive front lighting, the technology should not be considered a "plug and play" replacement for either tungsten-halogen or HID lamps.

The remarkable improvement in the performance of LEDs is clearly presenting some substantial business opportunities in the car, but the automotive industry is a demanding customer. Car manufacturers are exerting a strong technology pull both to improve performance and to reduce the cost of optoelectronic components.

Lighting and vision play key roles in the automobile. Most of the information that the driver uses comes through the windscreen of the car as visual data. Additional important information comes from interior lighting and from the instrument panel. Many newer models are also wired with an optical fibre multimedia communications network that links devices such as sensors, radio, DVD player and navigation system.

It is clear that in the context of the automotive industry, which manufactured over 40 million vehicles in 2004, there is a major commercial opportunity for photonic components and systems that meet the performance and cost targets of the car makers. In this article we focus on the situation regarding LEDs for front lighting. The interaction between performance, cost, regulations, and competing technologies gives a good introduction to the conditions that need to be met if LEDs are to become the preferred choice for exterior lighting.

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