Automotive SSL technology: Cadillac OLEDs dazzle, Mercedes cabin LEDs

Aug. 19, 2020
The new 2021 Cadillac Escalade features three separate curved OLED screens for driver information and distinctive LED exterior lighting while Mercedes S-Class sports dynamic LED cabin lighting.

New 2021 model year cars are entering the selling season and innovative solid-state lighting (SSL) has moved far beyond stylish and adaptable headlamps. The Cadillac Escalade SUV features three separate curved OLED displays for the driver and also distinctive and effective exterior lighting in terms of daytime running lights (DRLs) and turn indicators. Meanwhile, the Mercedes S Class sedan also features a large OLED and innovative cabin lighting based on network-connected RGB (red, green, blue) LED nodes (see photo above). Moreover, we also recently covered the new Audi Q5 SUV that has dynamic OLED tail lights that can use animation to provide more details of the driver’s intention to a trailing car and even serve to warn of an emergency ahead.

OLEDs span the dash

Cadillac boasts that the new Escalade integrates a total of more than 38 in. of display as measured diagonally. The OLED displays are curved to provide the driver an optimum viewing experience and the auto maker says the screens deliver perfect blacks, a large color range, and double the resolution of 4k-pixel TVs.

The driver can customize the usage of the displays to a great extent, but Cadillac designers did have specific intentions for each of the displays. The display centered in front of the driver measures 14.2 in. diagonally and is meant as the primary instrument cluster, although as you can see in the nearby photo, the display can be fed from any of the numerous cameras in the vehicle. Moreover, an optional augmented reality (AR) navigation feature uses the center screen to present a live street view with navigation cues superimposed. To the driver’s left, there is a smaller 7.2-in. display intended as a driver information center providing trip information and enabling control of other features such as the optional head-up display and Night Vision features. The largest display at 16.9 in. is to the driver’s right and extends to the edge of the passenger side of the dash, and is primarily intended for infotainment control.

Moving to the exterior of the Escalade, the LED lighting is an evolution of previous SSL concepts in Cadillacs. Prior Escalade models have included the signature vertical tail lights that stretch along either side of the rear door/hatch from bumper to roof. For 2021, the vehicle designers have achieved what the company calls a 3-D layered look intended as both a style and safety enhancement. The SUV also includes the vertical LED DRLs that stretch from the bumper to just below the headlamps and that are integrated with the front turn indicators. New for 2021 is a horizontal form for the LED headlamps.

S-Class interior

Moving to the new Mercedes S-Class, we covered some of the interior cabin information in a recent blog post. The LED lighting is essentially stitched into the fabric of the cabin via fiberoptic technology that is virtually hidden in seams, for instance, along the dash. We mentioned in the past that LEDs would be utilized increasingly in auto cabins to create ambience, and such usage is part of the reason our Strategies Unlimited (SU) research division continues to project significant growth in packaged LEDs sold into automotive applications.

As we covered previously, the LED lighting in the S-Class does more than just present a pleasing visual experience. The implementation acknowledges lighting for health and wellbeing principles and includes modes with enhanced blue-spectral emission that can boost driver alertness. The RGB (red, green, blue) LED nodes are spaced at 0.6-in. intervals radiating light into the fiberoptic. The fiber, meanwhile, is designed with light shaping properties to uniformly emit light in a perpendicular spatial manner along the length of the optic. The result is perfectly uniform lines of light that, on command, can produce interesting animations such as chase scenes.

Mercedes Benz has said that there are in excess of 250 LEDs used in the cabin lighting. We continue to believe that number refers to LED nodes consisting of three emitters — red, green, and blue. The company has also detailed the connection and control scheme for the distributed LED network. The implementation uses a standard CAN-BUS (controller area network bus) interconnect — a network widely used in automotive systems. The company said the system delivers brightness that’s ten times greater than prior systems and characterizes the output as 200 cd/m2.

The LED lighting is also tied into the vehicle safety system. For example, the lane departure warning can activate an LED warning. Likewise, the auto blind-spot assist can do the same. The LEDs can further be used to provide feedback to a driver using the voice assist capability to change vehicle settings.

Like Cadillac, Mercedes Benz has also utilized OLED display technology in the 2021 S Class. There is a center mounted 12.9-in. display with haptic feedback (see nearby image). That OLED unit is primarily for infotainment and HVAC control. It features a unique mechanical design. Rather than being integrated into the dash, it rises like a pedestal from the console below yet almost touches the dash. Mercedes has said that mechanical design was intentional to preserve the uniformity of the dash and the surface intended to evoke woodworking in a luxury yacht. But frankly it appears a bit disconnected in photos.

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About the Author

Maury Wright | Editor in Chief

Maury Wright is an electronics engineer turned technology journalist, who has focused specifically on the LED & Lighting industry for the past decade. Wright first wrote for LEDs Magazine as a contractor in 2010, and took over as Editor-in-Chief in 2012. He has broad experience in technology areas ranging from microprocessors to digital media to wireless networks that he gained over 30 years in the trade press. Wright has experience running global editorial operations, such as during his tenure as worldwide editorial director of EDN Magazine, and has been instrumental in launching publication websites going back to the earliest days of the Internet. Wright has won numerous industry awards, including multiple ASBPE national awards for B2B journalism excellence, and has received finalist recognition for LEDs Magazine in the FOLIO Eddie Awards. He received a BS in electrical engineering from Auburn University.