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Audi's Dynamic LED Headlights Are Too Cool for the Road

By Wesley Fenlon

Audi's Matrix LED system uses a camera to detect other cars and selectively dim parts of its headlamps. The road stays illuminated, and other drivers avoid having high beams blasted into their eyes.

The sooner LED headlights become the dominant force in car lighting technology, the sooner we can do away with the often blinding white-blue light of xenon lamps. You know the ones--they're dramatically brighter than the rest of the lights on the road, and even the low beams are uncomfortable to look at as a car darts by you on the highway. LEDs can solve that problem, and Audi actually has an interesting take on classic headlight design. First solution: Dynamic high beams.

Audi has designed a system called Matrix LED for its 2013 headlamps. The key to the Matrix is a camera that watches out for pedestrians and other cars. When it doesn't spot anything, it allows the LED lighting to default to a brighter high beam. But when it spots something, it selectively dims certain LEDs to avoid blinding other drivers and pedestrians. Audi goes into a bit more detail:

"Audi Matrix LED headlights...subdivide the LED high-beam light into numerous individual segments. The individual light-emitting diodes...work in tandem with lenses or reflectors in front of them...are separately activated, deactivated or dimmed according to the situation.

The Audi Matrix LED headlights get the information they need from a camera, the navigation system and other sensors. When the camera detects other vehicles, this causes the high-beam light, which is subdivided into multiple sectors, to be blocked in a certain subarea. In complex situations, the headlights can also illuminate the spaces between several vehicles.

Based on navigation data, the high beam light predictively swivels into the curve even before the driver begins to turn the steering wheel."

Image Credit: Audi

Cool as all this technology sounds, it's a bit too modern and flexible to fit into the rules set out by the United States' National Highway Transportation Administration. According to Extreme Tech, Audi's having trouble getting the lights approved for use in the US. Automotive News elaborates that Audi's dynamic headlights don't fit within the restrictions of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108, which is more than 150 pages long. Audi has asked for clarification of the standards to hopefully win approval for the Matrix LED lighting.

In the meantime, Audi cars with Matrix headlamps will likely pop up in Europe, where car regulations are very different. If they're popular (and deemed safe) after a couple years of use, the NHTA may get its act together and let Audi (as well as other automakers inevitably copying the technology) bring it to the US.