More so than rival manufacturers, Audi prides itself in offering some of the most advanced lighting technologies in the automotive industry. This is as true today with its Digital Matrix LED (DML) headlamps as it was way back in 1994 when second-generation xenon lights were offered on the A8 flagship sedan.
Compared to the sealed-beam halogen lamps that were fitted to cars just a few decades ago, Audi’s latest and greatest DML headlights are like something out of Star Wars (though not one of the new sequels because those movies are terrible). They can brightly illuminate the road ahead with a broad swath of light, yet selectively dim certain areas of this field to avoid blinding drivers in the opposing lane. These lamps can also project lines onto the road ahead to help you keep the vehicle centered, they can detect and selectively illuminate pedestrians that are near the roadway to improve safety and they can even intelligently dip the beams as you pull up to a stopped vehicle so you don’t dazzle the other driver’s eyes. This is seriously cool stuff.
Enabling these headlights to perform their sci-fi-worthy tricks is some clever technology. Each lamp assembly is fitted with a digital micromirror device, DMD for short. These little chips are decked with 1.3 million tiny mirrors that are just a few hundredths of a millimeter in length. Using electrostatic fields, they can be adjusted up to 5,000 times per second, which is how they’re able to turn on or off which parts of the field they illuminate. Enabling these headlights to see what’s ahead, they’re work with the vehicle’s forward-facing camera that’s also used to enable features like lane-departure warning.
Currently, Audi’s DML lamps are only offered on the E-Tron and E-Tron Sportback all-electric crossovers, available as a $3,000 option on top-shelf Prestige models in the US, but there’s a major caveat here. These DML headlights are fully functional in Europe, but they’re extremely limited in America because of our somewhat draconian vehicle safety regulations. About all they can do is project a welcome message as the driver approaches or a similar goodbye salutation as they lock the vehicle and walk away. So why would anyone ever pay three grand for this option if it basically does nothing useful? Well, Euro-spec and American E-Trons fitted with this technology basically have the same headlight hardware, meaning all those cool features can be enabled with a simple software update. When the feds get their act together and approve this sort of adaptive lamp, Audi will be ready. The only question is, when’s that going to happen? Unfortunately, there’s no solid answer, but a company spokesman said they are optimistic it will be soon. Audi is waiting on feedback from the Department of Transportation, though the Society of Automotive Engineers has also weighed in on this subject.
Aside from these cutting-edge headlamps, Audi engineers have also been working to reinvent the humble taillight. Digital OLED lamps are available on the Q5 utility vehicle. They allow drivers to choose between several different lighting signatures, but that’s not all. They can even improve safety. For instance, when the Q5 is stationary, if another vehicle approaches from behind and closes to within about 6.5 feet of its rear bumper, all the OLED segments can light up to warn the other motorist that they’re getting too close.
Whether it’s the latest and greatest DML headlights or high beams supplemented by lasers, dynamic turn signals that indicate the direction you want to go or simple LED daytime running lamps, Audi is a leader in lighting technology. In the coming years, expect the four-ring brand to continue advancing in this field, improving both the style and functionality of its vehicles.
Audi E-Tron Sportback First Edition is one slick electric SUV
Audi’s E-Tron brings big, electric comfort to the road
Climb in the driver’s seat for the latest car news and reviews, delivered to your inbox twice weekly.