When Will Audi’s Futuristic Headlights Make it to the U.S.?

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Audi Looks to Change Aging U.S. Headlight Rules

For years, Audi AG has sought to get U.S. reg­u­la­tors to allow its futur­is­tic head­lights, which auto­mat­i­cally dim for oncom­ing dri­vers, to be sold in the U.S.

The com­pany — and any other man­u­fac­turer that wants to use advanced light­ing sys­tems — can’t do so because a 45-year-old U.S. rule for head­lights doesn’t per­mit the 21st cen­tury technology.

That could change if nego­ti­a­tions sched­uled to take place in Wash­ing­ton this month result in a trade accord between the U.S. and the Euro­pean Union. In addi­tion to reduc­ing $10.5 bil­lion in annual tar­iffs, the pact could stream­line dis­parate reg­u­la­tions on either side of the Atlantic to facil­i­tate trade.

Some com­pa­nies see it as an oppor­tu­nity to elim­i­nate bur­den­some rules — a rare sec­ond chance to achieve on a global scale what they’ve been unable to win from indi­vid­ual gov­ern­ments. That has safety and con­sumer advo­cates warn­ing that hard-fought pro­tec­tions could be diluted or eliminated.

Audi Matrix LED head­lights, or “Matrix Beam” as Audi refers to it, are the future of head­light tech­nol­ogy. Matrix Beam, though, is not cur­rently legal in the US, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Matrix Beam uses dozens of indi­vid­ual light­ing seg­ments, pro­jected for­ward by lenses and reflec­tors. Depend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion, these seg­ments can be dimmed or sim­ply turned off. This, for instance, allows the light appear to be swivel­ing with­out requir­ing a mech­a­nism to do so. The inside or out­side seg­ments sim­ply dim, shift­ing the focus point to one side or the other.

Matrix Beam is not yet legal in the U.S. sim­ply because the head­light reg­u­la­tions were, accord­ing to an Audi spokesman, “writ­ten long before soft­ware and sophis­ti­cated sen­sors were con­sid­ered impor­tant ele­ments of auto­mo­tive light­ing.” Audi is work­ing along­side reg­u­la­tors to inter­pret these laws in order to allow Matrix Beam on future Audi cars bound for the States.

Matrix Beam takes into account satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion loca­tion, as well as onboard video cam­era images to adjust light­ing. The sys­tem is so pre­cise, how­ever, that Matrix Beam is capa­ble of illu­mi­nat­ing “the areas between sev­eral vehi­cles in com­plex sit­u­a­tions,” accord­ing to an Audi press release, which is demon­strated in the photo in the above photo gallery with the man hold­ing a flash­light and two beams of light on either side of him.

Adap­tive head­lights are becom­ing com­mon­place in today’s auto­mo­tive mar­ket­place. Audi’s adap­tive head­lights are a bit more com­plex than some of its com­peti­tors, which sim­ply swivel with the turn­ing of the steer­ing wheel.

Audi adap­tive head­lights not only swivel up to 15 degrees but also adjust based upon var­i­ous vehi­cle para­me­ters. Audi’s vehi­cle light­ing com­puter looks at road speed, steer­ing angle, and yaw rate to adjust the aim of the head­lights accord­ingly. These light­ing changes can seem unde­tectable to the dri­ver but can sig­nif­i­cantly increase road visibility.

The bot­tom line: A 1968 U.S. rule requir­ing beams to switch from high to low means that Audi can’t sell cars with its new auto­mated headlights.

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