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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Listener Thoughts On Laser Beam Headlights

Audi's new laser headlight technology will make its way into the 2014 Audi R18 e-tron quattro race car. (Audi Sport)

Audi’s new laser headlight technology will make its way into the 2014 Audi R18 e-tron quattro race car. (Audi Sport)

Earlier this week, Paul Eisenstein, publisher of the car news website The Detroit Bureau, joined us to talk about all the high-tech car innovations at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (See the interview here.)

There was one thing he said that drew some pretty strong listener reaction. It was about a new device from Audi.

“This is a car that replaces its high beams with laser beams. And it’s so powerful that with the high beams this vehicle would be able to light up the road a third of a mile ahead of you,” Eisenstein said.

Fay Nissenbaum wrote in the comments, “Brighter headlights – arent we blinded already by those using high beams all the time?”

Rick Evans wrote, “Laser high beams? Wonderful. Now we will have morons blinding oncoming drivers from a third of a mile away. In today’s over illuminated cities and suburbs you hardly need to use headlights, much less blind people with high beams or those idiotic extra bright bluish lights.”

Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti says she followed up with Eisenstein about the headlights, and he said it’s not certain that Audi is going to do a production version of the laser-high beams, and if they do, it will almost certainly have an auto-dimming feature. He said other car companies are also experimenting with auto-dimming features.

Let us know what you think in the comments below, or the comments in the original story.



Where we also really heard, Robin, from you, listeners, after another story we aired earlier this week. Paul Eisenstein of the automotive news website TheDetroitBureau.com, he joined us to talk about all those high-tech car innovations at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. And there was one thing he said that drew some pretty strong reaction from people across the country.

It was about a new device from Audi.

PAUL EISENSTEIN: This is a car that replaces its high beams with laser beams, and it's so powerful that this vehicle would be able to light up the road a third of a mile ahead of you.

CHAKRABARTI: Brighter headlights? Aren't we blinded already by using those high beams all the time? That was one response on our website from Fay Nissenbaum(ph). And Rick Evens(ph) also chimed in. He added: Last high beams, wonderful, now we'll have idiots blinding oncoming drivers from a third of a mile away. He goes on to write in today's over-illuminated cities and suburbs, you hardly need to use headlights or those idiotic extra-bright bluish lights.

And Robin, I have to say quite frankly I felt the same way because my eyes are pretty good, not perfect, and I'll tell you that sometimes when I drive down the road at night, I feel like I have to squint a bit because of how bright some headlights already are.


Well, you flash at them to turn them down. But what did Paul say?

CHAKRABARTI: Well, he said that first of all it's not certain that Audi is going to do a production version of the laser high beams. And if they do, it will almost certainly have auto-dimming features on it. Paul also said that other car companies are experimenting with auto-dimming features.

EISENSTEIN: One of the really interesting things, the latest Mercedes S-Class has a technology on it that actually uses some semi-mechanical technologies that will block part of the headlight. So if it sees a car coming towards you, it will actually put a blocker in front of part of the headlight so only the part that doesn't go into the oncoming traffics' eyes of drivers will still be allowed to shine on the road.

CHAKRABARTI: So that's something. But is it enough for you? Let us know at hereandnow.org. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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  • Jerry

    My pet peeve!!! I drive 62 miles to work and this time of year I have to endure the inconsiderate drivers who will not dim their high beams. I have done an unscientific survey and have determined that 30% of cars drive with their high beams at al times. The percentage goes to about 40%of SUV’s and for pickups the percentage rises with a positive correlation based on the size of the pickup. 55% for a regular pickup to about 70% for a heavy duty!

  • Claude

    My grandfather’s 1953 Oldsmobile 98 had headlight dimming technology. My father’s 1962 Cadillac Deville had it, that one was adjustable. Why on earth did they stop using it. And, as for the latest “bright” headlights, they are a major driving hazard. I can’t comprehend why the Nat’l Highway Safety andTransportation Dept (?) allow them.

  • Natalie

    Back in the late ’60′s the husband of a friend of mine thought it would be pretty funny to install (himself) an airplane landing light on the front of his car, especially to punish drivers for not turning down their brights to oncoming traffic. It was truly amazing. The light washed the road ahead with incredibly bright light for a huge expanse of territory. I can’t imagine how blinding that light must have been when it suddenly popped into one’s visual field!

  • Sondra

    A device like this is terribly inconsiderate. Yes, it makes it easier for the driver to see, but at the expense of blinding everyone in front of them. I don’t think very many Audi drivers spend a lot of time on long stretches of empty highway in the middle of deer country, which, in my opinion, is the only acceptable place to have your brights on.

    • n crawford

      Hey Sondra, why don’t you do just a little research before making a comment?

  • Robert Thomas

    This is interesting as meta-News

    I have no idea what Audi has actually engineered.

    This seems likely to be an attempt to adapt light-emitting diode (LED) technology – now universally used for tail lights and many indicators – for headlight utility.

    Any LED illuminator of this sort is likely to be classifiable as a laser; that is, any high-power collimated beam (as required for headlights) produced from a semiconducting source is likely to be coherent. I would think that the problem would in fact be how to decohere the beams in order to avoid pesky fringing (and obviously, the ire of other motorists).

    Whatever the case, the fact that description of this technology has traversed at least two levels of journalism and at least one level of Public Relations guarantees that the technology will bare little resemblance to this description.

    • n crawford

      There is plenty of information out there about this technology. You perpetuating fears doesn’t do anyone any good…

      • Robert Thomas

        n crawford, I’m sorry that you found my comment so scary!

        My points were (I think obviously)

        1) Audi has done nothing alarming here
        2) Audi wanted to use a semiconducting, improved-efficiency source for headlights
        3) Any such source is not unlikely to be described as a laser
        4) The engineers will decohere the source to prevent any adverse effects such as fringing etc.
        5) (1) – (4) above suggest that this is mock-alarming, non-news
        6) By writing “Whatever the case…”, I asserted (again obviously) that the poor command of facts evinced by journalists in the presentation of ANY technological subject is so poor that no information, neither alarming nor soothing, can be usefully extracted from the copy, “whatever the case…” Do you see?

        Since the facts of the segment may nevertheless be decoded as NOT ALARMING by any thinking person capable of reflection, further research isn’t warranted.

  • Orbin

    Hi, I was listening to some of the listener comments about the Laser Beam Headlights. I just want to say that not all of us live in a city or suburbs like one listener mentioned. Their are a lot of us who live in Rural areas, and having Brighter, farther, lights can help us with not crashing into Deer or any other form of wildlife that happen to be running around the side of the road at night.
    -Orbin Fannon -19/yo Va

  • LG

    Headlights save lives! The brighter the better and leave them on all the time!

    The United States lags far behind other developed countries in terms lumens allowed in automotive headlamps.
    Compare the US to European nations, where industry standards allows for double the amount of lumens allowed.
    Responders to this thread whom are speaking of “idiotic blue lights” are complaining about European style headlamps.

    Rather than dimmer lights, why not mandate auto tinting glass in all vehicles. The technology has been around long enough to make it an affordable technology for auto manufacturers & for replacement glass.

    While we are at it, the United States needs to catch up with other developed countries such as Australia, whom require headlights on if the vehicle is running, regardless of time of day or orientation of the sun.

    As a general contractor in MI, one service that I provide is snow removal, so I am on the roads a lot in bad weather. It is disturbing to me to witness time and again drivers out and about in treacherous weather and or at night without their headlights on. This is made all the more alarming when witnessing emergency responders such as ambulances and law enforcement doing the same.
    No less disturbing is witnessing drivers whom seemingly fail to understand that when their automotive lights are covered with snow, they are generally not visible to other motorists.

    I personally ensure that all of my vehicles are outfitted with the brightest factory lights available and also with auxiliary lighting, all of which activate upon vehicle startup.

    As a closing question; is it ignorance or arrogance that makes a driver not want to be as visible as possible while traveling by automobile?

    Dexter, MI.

  • n crawford

    Talk about technophobes… The comments here are just ludicrous.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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