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.