BMW smart lasers and OLED to light up CES 2015

BMW hints that a new concept car it will unveil during CES 2015 in Las Vegas will make use of computer-controlled laser headlights and organic LED tail lights.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
2 min read
2015 BMW i8
Josh Miller/CNET

2015 BMW i8
Slow-moving US regulatory bodies meant BMW could only offer LED headlights, and not the more sophisticated laser lights, on its i8 hybrid sports car. Josh Miller/CNET

Audi showed up at CES 2014 with laser-based headlights last January, then BMW put that technology on the road in the funky i8 hybrid sports car . For CES 2015, BMW says it will show off two new lighting systems, smart laser headlights and OLED-based tail lights.

These technologies will be shown on a new concept car that BMW will unveil during the show.

Laser light may sound like a dangerous technology for headlights, but it's actually more efficient than even the LED headlights just now reaching production cars. The laser light is filtered to make it safe to look at, and puts out 170 lumens per watt, up from an LED headlight's 100 lumens per watt. Laser headlights also throw twice as far as LED headlights. BMW included laser lights as an option on its i8 model, although this feature is not yet available in the US because the Department of Transportation is yet to approve the technology.

BMW will put a new twist on laser headlights at CES, however, taking advantage of their flexibility. The concept car will use its various sensors and data sources to shape the laser light thrown in front of the car appropriately for the terrain. Although we will have to wait and see what precisely BMW has on offer, this type of feature could be used to adjust the angle of the headlight when going up or down a hill, shorten the throw in a well-lit city, and of course prevent the light from shining into other drivers' faces.

As for the tail lights, organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) are a technology just beginning to be used on TVs. Rather than a projector, this low-energy display technology makes a luminescent surface in any color you desire. BMW will show off OLED tail lights on its concept car, the advantages being that it makes for smooth illumination across the entire panel, can show different tail-light patterns for different circumstances, and requires less intrusion into the body of the car than a typical light and reflector.

I'll be posting full details when I see BMW's new concept car at CES 2015, so stay tuned.