Not content for them to simply illuminate, Volkswagen is experimenting with ways of using head- and taillights to project information onto the road around a car. The automaker said in a news release today that it's working on new lightings systems that would use a cluster of 30,000 tiny elements within a light housing to be able to communicate with other drivers.
As an example of the technology, Volkswagen says it's working on headlights with a feature called Optical Lane Assist. The lights would project lines onto the roadway that indicate the vehicle's width, helping a driver keep his or her vehicle within the lane. The system could also project the width of a trailer being towed, useful for avoiding clipping fixed objects.
At the other end of the car, an Optical Park Assist would allow the taillights to project the path a vehicle was going to reverse through. The idea is to warn other drivers or pedestrians so they can keep out of the driver's way. Or the taillights' many small pixels could be used to display information, with VW demonstrating a warning symbol, an indication of an electric vehicle's charge status and even a personalized "signature" as possibilities. The company says that the feature could even be used to allow tense situations in hectic traffic, "to be defused using car-to-car communication," though no details yet on what message you'd send to your fellow commuters.
Light could also be used to share information about the car's status. For instance, prototype door handles have a thin light strip in them that would indicate whether the car was locked or unlocked (red or green light), or whether the Volkswagen had detected a nearby smartphone that could be used as a key for the car.
As one final use case, Volkswagen points to the light-projection technology being important to self-driving vehicles. Many companies are experimenting with light systems that allow an autonomous vehicle to signal its intended path and direction to other road users. VW's system would shine arrow shapes onto the roadway, helping others know where the autonomous vehicle planned to steer next.