Digital Audi Matrix LED headlights: one million pixels dancing in step

Audi has been pushing the limits of vehicle lighting technology for many years. Its most recent innovation is the digital Matrix LED headlight for the new Audi e-tron Sportback. It offers new features that make driving safer and more secure — for everyone on the road.

11/21/2019 Reading Time: 2 min

Audi e-tron Sportback: Power consumption, combined*: 24–20.9 kWh/100km (NEDC); 25.9–21.1 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Audi e-tron Sportback: Power consumption, combined*: 24–20.9 kWh/100km (NEDC); 25.9–21.1 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Bright minds can see further — and the name of the man who illuminates Audi is Stephan Berlitz. He is head of development in lighting and vision innovations.  His latest innovation that will go into series production had its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show 2019: the digital Matrix LED headlights for the new  Audi e-tron Sportback.

On the highway: a 50-meter carpet of light

“On narrow streets or construction zones, the orientation light effectively helps drivers to stay in the middle of the lane.”

Stephan Berlitz

The new digital lighting system offers features that make driving easier and more secure. One major advantage is the lane and orientation lighting for highways, in which the headlights emit a carpet of light up to 50 meters long. It brightly illuminates the driver’s current lane and adjusts dynamically during lane changes. Dark spots — areas, where the lighting is dimmed — show where the car is positioned in the lane.

No matter which lighting array is used in which driving situation, the digital Matrix LED headlights produce it with the utmost precision. “We use the low beam to create curve lighting, city lighting, and highway lighting functions — and we do it even more precisely and harmoniously than ever before,” says Berlitz. “The main headlights can exclude other vehicles from the beam of light even more precisely, to avoid blinding them.” At the beginning and end of a trip, the digital Matrix headlights can generate dynamic loops — animations that display geometric lighting patterns on the garage door or the ground.

A million micromirrors: the technology behind the Audi Matrix LED

The new Audi Matrix LED headlights are based on what is known as DMD technology, which stands for Digital Micromirror Device . The heart of the device is a small chip with around one million micromirrors, each of which has an edge length of only a few hundredths of a millimeter. Electrostatic fields allow the mirrors to be tilted at a rate of up to 5,000 times per second.

The mirrors’ position determines what happens to the light generated by the three LEDs. A lens system directs the majority of the light onto the street; when a particular area should be dimmed, the necessary light is directed to an absorber that swallows it up.

A new responsibility — car lighting that communicates with others on the road

A global innovation made by Audi: The fully electric Audi e-tron Sportback follows the carpet of light it is projecting onto the streets.

A global innovation made by Audi: The fully electric Audi e-tron Sportback follows the carpet of light it is projecting onto the streets.

Stephan Berlitz has been in a leadership position in lighting innovations at Audi for almost 20 years. He and his team have brought innovations such as LED headlights, dynamic blinkers, and OLED rear lights into series production. And with the Audi Matrix LED headlights, he is once again years ahead of the curve. “This is opening up a whole new world because the car can now use its lighting to communicate with its environment in a nuanced way,” says Berlitz.

Cars from Audi, the developer explains, could soon be able (and permitted) to warn other drivers about accidents or icy patches by projecting appropriate symbols onto the street. Additional ideas are pedestrian crosswalks produced with lighting or directional arrows that could be used to warn other drivers of an upcoming lane change. Before that becomes reality, however, the authorities in the worldwide markets first need to grant their approval.

Autonomous driving is pushing lighting technology forward

The lighting developers at Audi won’t be running out of challenges any time soon; the future of driving will assign entirely new responsibilities to the vehicle’s lighting. Rather than just lighting the streets for the driver, lighting will become a medium with which the car communicates with its environment.

Or, as Stephan Berlitz puts it: “Communication is there for everyone. We put lighting into motion.”

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