Audi equipping some new cars with advanced laser headlights

The big A8 sedan has been Audi's flagship for some time. It's also usually its flagship for technology - whether it's something to pamper, help navigate or help keep drivers out of trouble.

Now, the 2019 Audi A8 is helping usher in a new era of lighting. The car's optional LED Matrix headlights are the latest in high-illumination, low-energy technology. And they're kind of stylish, adding a distinctive signature look to the front of the car.

They also have a cool new technology breakthrough: laser high beams. With them, the Audi can better illuminate dark roads. One little problem; Audi can't get approval from U.S. regulators to activate them. The hardware is there on many of the new cars already in customers' hands, but the software is delayed pending government approval.

In the meantime, the Matrix LED headlights already do a very good job of lighting up a pitch-dark road. We'll have to wait and see how the laser lights do, once they get approval.

Headlight technology has definitely evolved in recent decades, and safety experts say better lighting can help drivers see better on dark roads, including seeing pedestrians, bicyclists and animals.

But headlights that are too bright and not aimed properly are a growing problem, as other drivers often take a dim view of being blinded by them. One interesting feature of the Audi LED Matrix lights is they can detect an oncoming car and adjust the beam automatically, so as to not shine onto cars coming the opposite direction.

But the other growing problem is headlights that are too dim. As cars get older, the plastic headlight lenses can turn cloudy and yellow, weakening the output. Research has shown that deterioration can be noticeable in cars that are only three to five years old. Many cars that are 10-15 years old can have severely deteriorated lenses.

"The deteriorated headlights only produce about 20 percent of total light output, compared to brand new headlights," said Megan McKernan, manager of the Auto Club's Automotive Research Center in Los Angeles.

The ideal solution is to replace the lenses, preferably with new ones from the vehicle manufacturer. Almost as good a solution is aftermarket lenses made by independent companies. Both those solutions can be pricey, including labor for a professional shop to remove the old lenses and install the new ones.

A third option is to use a DIY lens restoration kit as a stop-gap solution.

"Doing that will increase the light output to about 70 percent of new headlights," noted Megan McKernan of the Auto Club.

As the saying goes, that's better than nothing.

Yes, seeing where you're going - and being seen - is important. As new safety technology finds its way into new cars, some of this new technology, like the laser headlights, improves on a very old technology.
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