Audi: light and design
An official document that describes how the emerging LED lighting technology has affected the design of the recent Audi models, becoming an important styling element, and how LEDs will change the vehicle’s lighting concept in the next future.
Five years ago, at the North American
International Auto Show in Detroit, Audi presented the Pikes Peak quattro concept study.
This SUV, which provided the inspiration for today’s Audi Q7, had the world’s first
fog lights equipped with high-performance light-emitting diodes.
Integrated into the
broad bumper as striking strips of light, the fog lights were also aesthetically pleasing and very
popular with the public. Soon thereafter, the 12-cylinder Audi A8 went into series production as the world’s
first vehicle with LED daytime running lights.
Today all new Audi
models are recognizable at a glance thanks to LED daytime running lights, not only during the day but also at night.
|Audi A4||Audi R8|
The LED technology
A light-emitting diode, or LED, is a semiconductor device –
just a square millimeter in size – which can convert electrical energy directly into light with a very high efficiency.
|Audi Q5 – Technical illustrations of the LED lighting units|
The first LED headlights introduced with the Pikes Peak
concept generated 18 lumens per watt.
For the sake of comparison, an ordinary household light bulb generates
about 20 to 25 lumens per watt. A modern passenger vehicle’s xenon headlights, on
the other hand, are very energy-efficient and create some 80 lumens per watt.
The next generation of
white high-performance LEDs will hit the market next year with 100
lumens per watt, thus surpassing the efficiency of xenon lights for the first time.
Today’s xenon and LED headlights are four times more energyefficient
than halogen headlights.
By 2018, LED technology should be about eight
times more efficient than halogen light. In addition, LEDs excel due to their practically indefinite service life and react up to ten times more quickly than traditional
“Light-emitting diodes are similar to
computer chips. Every two years there’s an increase in output of about 30 percent,” explains Berlitz, “and we’ll soon be able to create so much light with LEDs that
entirely new applications will become possible.”
Digital light, as Berlitz calls this new light technology, can be made more or less bright
electronically and precisely adapted to a driver’s needs. Audi developers are
convinced that future generations of headlights will react to weather conditions, a
vehicle’s speed, the distance between vehicles, and potentially dangerous objects.
Developers tightly bundle several light-emitting diodes to create modules known as LED
These arrays are extremely flat, very compact and require much less space
than conventional light sources such as halogen bulbs or xenon burners.
this, and thanks to reflectors as well as sophisticated electronic controls, it is possible
to realize very complex lighting functions in the tightest of spaces. Cornering light, for
example, has traditionally been executed via complex mechanical means in
LEDs can also reduce a vehicle’s fuel
consumption. Vehicles’ conventional low-beam headlights, taillights, and license-plate
illumination consume some 200 watts – which the alternator must constantly
By comparison, a mere 15 watts is required to power the new Audi A4’s
LED daytime running lights, that equates to a decrease of about 0.2 liters of
fuel per 100 kilometers and about 4 grams fewer CO2 emissions per kilometer.
This advantage will be more and more evident when daytime running lights become mandatory in the European Union
in May 2011.
LED lights in design
The tiny light sources present designers with spectacular opportunities. Stefan Sielaff,
Audi’s Head of Design, explains: “LEDs unlock the door to unrealized design
possibilities for exterior design and interiors alike.”
|Design sketches of the Audi A1 Sportback Concept|
For example, a number of lightemitting
diodes can be combined to create various shapes, which can ultimately result
in a distinctive visual appearance.
The taillights of the Audi A6 Avant are likely the
best-known example of any tail end. These light-emitting diodes in a ring-shaped array have become every bit as instantly recognizable as the sweeping LED daytime
running lights at the front end of the Audi A4.
Headlights naturally play a pivotal role in a vehicle’s light design. An appealing front end with one-of-a-kind lights makes a car as well as its personality and the brand recognizable at a glance.
Sielaff adds: “LED daytime running lights epitomize this fact.
Every light design is different, yet there’s no mistaking that every single vehicle is an
"Our daytime running lights cemented the visible persona of Audi models on the
road and hone our progressive, sporty design.”
A strip of light can be
designed to underscore a vehicle’s character, just as eyeliner emphasizes an eye.
This fundamentally alters the body language of Audi models.
“The lighting configuration of yesteryear – the radiator grille along with the round lights – called to
mind the face of a friendly bear,” notes André Georgi, Senior Designer of Lighting
“The LED daytime running lights for the A Series, e.g. on the A4
and A5, look determined, elegant, and dynamic.
"The lights on the Audi Q5 and Audi
Q7 appear especially broad and powerful.
"And the LED daytime running lights on the
R8 symbolize the horns of a bull charging full speed ahead, bursting with vigor and pride.”
to the daytime running lights, the turn signals as well as low-beam and high-beam
headlights are all executed by means of light-emitting diodes.
Huhn explains: “A lot of people
initially viewed this development as a mere marketing gimmick. Yet everyone who has
seen these lights in action is not only astonished by the excellent output, but also
thrilled with the homogenous distribution of light and the agreeable, daylight-esque
color of the light."
Audi’s light strategy also benefits from something quite different, namely a
psychological phenomenon: “Bright light created by small, compact light sources is
unpleasant for the human eye. The combination of headlights and LED daytime
running lights enlarges the light source, thus eliminating a nuisance,” explains Georgi.
Ideas and visions
At Audi the
design process is initiated by developing and defining a vehicle’s character. The light
designers and engineers from Technical Development play a hands-on role in this
process from the word go. For example, one of the engineers – fittingly nicknamed “The Bridge” by his colleagues – works right in the middle of the Design Department.
Conversely, a lot of the technically relevant headlight components are designed by
Technical Development. This close rapport ensures that the departments confer with
one another every day.
As a vehicle’s exterior takes shape, the proportions of the headlights and the taillights
are defined. Georgi says: “It’s a truly intensive process for us to develop new
headlights; every idea and every vision from Technical Development and Design
Audi’s light designers turn to industrial design and architecture when they require
inspiration for new ideas.
In fact, more and more architects are integrating high-tech LEDs into their plans for new buildings, thus joining a worldwide shift toward energy-efficient lighting.
Experts forecast that LEDs, energy-efficient and maintenance-free
sources of light, will also become the first choice for indoor lighting.
“Nature often shows us the way, allowing us to learn just how simply and effectively
processes can be executed," explains the light designer Georgi.
The most recent
example of this is the taillights we developed for the Audi A1 Sportback Concept, which was inspired by the
lattice structure of a dragonfly’s wing.
The design of the taillights impressively
demonstrates the relative simplicity required to construct a very large, stable and light
Georgi says: “With our bionic design, we transferred this constructional
conception to the Audi A1 concept’s taillights, which needed to be lightweight
because they are integrated in the tailgate.”
|Audi A1 Sportback Concept|
The headlights of the Audi A1 Sportback Concept are an additional illustration of nature permeating Audi design.
Reminiscent of an open pine cone, reflector shells arranged successively in
concentric circles harness the light of each individual diode to create lighting which is
powerful and consistent.
The headlights in the middle, on the other hand, are shaped
Audi developers think that the future generations of headlights will provide "the right light for every driving situation".
Huhn explains: “We’re striving to
create intelligent headlights and taillights which think and anticipate in the interest of
enhancing a driver’s safety and comfort.”
For example, there are already high-beam
headlights in pre-series development which will allow drivers to navigate roads at
night without temporarily blinding oncoming drivers.
This is made possible by a
variable distribution of light: An electronic system continuously calculates the distance
to any approaching vehicles to ensure that the road ahead is ideally illuminated at all
times – without irritating oncoming drivers.
LEDs also present new opportunities for interior lighting. Similar to interior
architecture, lighting scenarios are imaginable which would make it safer to operate
the vehicle at night, render the interior considerably roomier, or impart a certain
The optional interior lighting package with ambient lighting in the Audi A8 is an example. It gives the
possibilities for customizing the interior lights: the driver can dim the light and
configure various lighting profiles via the MMI.
These profiles respond as appropriate
to certain driving situations – when a vehicle’s interior is illuminated by lighting within
cities, for example, or becomes dark on unlit rural routes.
When it comes to the lighting in vehicle interiors, developers are confronted with few
limits. Safety and comfort are top priorities.
Berlitz explains: “Think of a mountain hut
at night. As you’re passing through an alpine meadow, you spot the warm light
glowing through the hut’s windows. The light triggers that same cozy sensation you
feel when you arrive home.”
“Just imagine: You press a single button on your remote control
and the entire vehicle springs to life. The ‘headlight eyes’ awaken and an inviting light
fills the vehicle’s interior as if to say: Welcome home!”