Roadshow

Why the FDA had to approve Audi's latest R8

New headlight tech brings the FDA into the car business.

I thought the folks from Audi were getting their US agency acronyms mixed up when they told me the laser headlights on the newest R8 supercar were approved by the FDA. The FDA? Aren't they the food and drug people?

It turns out anything with a laser has to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration because of radiation emissions. Look closely into the headlight assembly on the R8 V10 Plus Exclusive Edition unveiled at the LA Auto Show and you'll find the telltale label (seen above).

It tells us the high-beam assembly is Class II, which means "Hazard increases when viewed directly for long periods of time. Hazard increases if viewed with optical aids." In other words, don't stare into the car's high beams, especially with a magnifying glass.

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Just 25 examples of Audi's R8 V10 Plus Exclusive Edition are coming to the US.

Jim Fets/Audi

Other parts of the label tell us how much power is applied and where in the spectrum the laser's color falls. This laser outputs at 450-nanometer wavelength to be specific, which is a blue laser.

Like BMW's first-to-market laser headlight option that adds $6,300 to your i8, the Audi module does not shoot the laser beam down the road, rather just a fraction of an inch toward a phosphor that glows intensely. Its light is then reflected down the road while also being filtered to correct it to a temperature of 5,500K, almost exactly the color of the sun at high noon.

The point of all this is a lot of light with less chaos; Massive illumination but also sharper illumination. It is telling that the Audi high beams only work above 40 mph and only when the car detects no oncoming lights or a heavily illuminated scene ahead.

Can it be long before someone straps food to the front of their R8 to update the old trick of cooking dinner on your exhaust manifold on the way home?