Car headlamps secure visibility of the road ahead and send signals to other vehicles nearby. These days, carmakers are showcasing high-tech, smart headlamps which will not only improve safety but also express identity.
Here's how carmakers create headlamps and how their new designs and technologies shape the automotive lighting market.
Hyundai Lighting Vision Team designs car lights for both the interior and the exterior. Lee JaeHun, Team Manager, says that "structure, optics, electricity, electronics, control logic, communication, and materials have consummated into automotive lamps."
Q. How is the automotive lighting market going?
As we get used to plastic and polycarbonate injection moulding, designing LED headlamps featured tremendous advantages with more flexible design possibilities. The Intelligent Front-lighting System (IFS) is another high-tech feature that automakers boast. The system can automatically activate or deactivate the low beam lights depending on the conditions. This control aids driver visibility at night by automatically turning on/off one of the LED lamps through a camera attached, which is called Dynamic Welcome Light(DWL).
Q. Cars are becoming smart mobility devices. How will lamps evolve?
The future car lamps will work bidirectionally for better communication. Hyundai Motor Group, for instance, is working on developing headlamps that can communicate with pedestrians. The new headlamp uses 400,000 micromirrors to control luminosity and create certain letters or images.
Rear lamps will also 'communicate' with others. So far, we had stop lights, tail lights, reversing lights, and turn signals to inform pedestrians or cars behind. The future rear lamps, however, will 'display' letters or images for sending messages more clearly.
The safety issue has come up as automakers develop headlamps full of new technologies. Brand-new materials are being used and the design has been much more complicated. Cho JungHyun at Hyundai and Kia Body Test Team 2 tells us how they test the new headlamps.
Q. How do you test lamps?
First is the quality test. This includes nighttime luminosity distribution test and humidity test. And we also do the heat resistance test for 8 hours at 40 degrees Celsius. We manage the quality of the lamps with the Lighting Vision Team from the beginning.
Q. Usability and stability testing both sound very important.
Yes, we do the road testing to check the usability of the lamps. The first thing we do is finding the right location for testing. During the day we search for the right road, and then we give our product a road test. We usually need to stay up all night because it is very important to run the test without any other light intervention for the accuracy of the test results. Sometimes things don't work as we expected - wet roads reflecting the light after the rain can ruin everything, for example. When we were in Russia for research, the white nights kept us waiting for a really long time. These variables, ironically, make the test even more important.
Q. Is there an automotive lighting test for autonomous cars?
We believe that everything, including cars, people, and things, will be communicating with each other in the era of self-driving cars. The lamps on the grille will send signals to pedestrians, and pixel lighting to the cars nearby. And we are now conducting experiments on signal lamps that might be used for autonomous vehicles.
We are also getting ready to run various tests for ambient light in the cockpit that is designed for soothing. We believe that carmakers will make interior lights more from entertainment perspectives. Making ergonomic lamps, as a result, will become more important in the future.
Through its concept ‘Le Fil Rouge’, the Hyundai New Grandeur showcased the headlamps and grille blended into a sensuous curve. Hyundai has applied an integrated-type front grille and headlamp design, decorating the front with parametric pattern to offer a luxurious feel.
The New Grandeur incorporates hidden lamps, which in daytime look like part of the front grille when turned off, and reappear when the engine starts. Lee Sunil, Researcher at Hyundai Lighting Vision Team, talks more about the hidden lighting.
Q. What are the Hidden Lights of the New Grandeur?
The brilliant shining star-like headlamps are highlights of the New Grandeur design. When the headlamps are turned on, the white LED light reflects off the angled facets in a show of brilliantly vivid symphony of light. A closer look at the Grandeur's headlamps reveals exquisite craftsmanship blending skill and emotion. The designers call it gradation-hidden lighting technology, and it was first used for Sonata. When the lights are off, it looks like an ordinary chrome garnish wrapped around the headlamp. When the lights come on, the chrome garnish gives off subtle rays of LED lighting. The secret to the effect is a highly elaborate laser-etching process. The gradation is achieved by etching the chrome over the LED at different intensity and intervals. The technology, however, is applied to the New Grandeur through a completely different implement method. For instance, engineers coated the panel with a thin aluminum layer, then put holes where light should be emitted. This procedure required precision laser cutting technology for perfect emission.
Q. What was the hardest part of the development?
Having no predecessor was the biggest obstacle. Putting the lamps on the grille made it more complicated for safety testing. Aluminum-coating on the lenses, lens distortion, luminosity distribution on perforated surfaces were all new problems that no one has ever faced. We had to make over 200 samples to go through. And thankfully, we managed to patent it.
The headlamps are a depiction of the brand’s design identity. The third-generation K5 has a shorter trunk line and longer hood, with its signature radiator grille connected seamlessly with the headlamps. This is because it was intended to be designed after a heart rate monitor. Lee SeungJin, Researcher at Exterior Design Team 1, talks more about it.
Q. The shape of those lamps looks difficult to make.
The third-generation K5 has a shorter trunk line and longer hood, with the signature “Tiger Nose” radiator grille connected seamlessly with the headlamps. This is because it was intended to make Daytime Running Lights - which designed after a heart rate monitor - and headlamps look bolder. And for perfect calibration, we monitored the lamps when the hood is being closed.
Q. The rear lamps look quite similar to the headlamps.
The image of car lighting is one of the most important elements of car designing. We poured our hearts to keep the innovative design elements while following the safety regulations. Through total reflection, we made sure that the optical system, the number of light sources, the distance between each light source, and the light output are carefully consummated to make the perfect, long rear lamps.
State-of-the-art technology and imagination consummated the Genesis cars. The Quad Lamps, paired by two, represent the design identity of Genesis. The Quad Lamps, which flank the Crest Grille, are made possible with sophisticated lighting technology. Head Researcher Park YongWoo and Researcher Hong WanHee at Lighting Vision Team explain further.
Q. What was the most important part when you were developing the Quad Lamp?
While the Quad Lamp of GV80 on the upper headlamp is slimmer than any other lamps technically, the Intelligent Front-lighting System (IFS) below is another high-tech feature that GV80 boasts. The system can automatically activate or deactivate the low beam lights depending on the current conditions. Through its development, we could get a general idea of an optical system with beam splitting.
Q. What is the Intelligent Front-lighting System (IFS)?
The system can automatically activate or deactivate the low beam lights depending on the current conditions. This control aids driver visibility at night by automatically turning on/off one of the LED lamps through a camera attached. Also, the system gets automatically activated when the vehicle reaches the desired speed.
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