With electric cars becoming more common and less new, automakers are on the lookout for the next innovative feature to advertise to consumers. For Audi, these are the company̵
The DML headlights were a feature that was first demonstrated about a year ago, but they’re finally available as an option on the Audi e-tron Sportback and e-tron SUV in 2021, albeit with limited functionality in the US until the automaker the regulations can convince body it is just as safe and even safer than normal low and high beam.
The Digital Matrix LED headlights combine a bright set of LEDs with 1.3 million micro mirrors in each headlight that can adjust where they reflect and project the light up to 5,000 times per second. This technology has been used in Texas Instruments DLP projectors for years. However, this is the first time the technology has been placed on the front of the vehicle.
But why? Is this Audi’s attempt to revive the drive-in cinema experience as there is no end in sight to the pandemic? No. The Digital Matrix LED headlights are not colored, but can create animations. If you happen to be parked against a wall, when you start you will see the name of your vehicle and the Audi logo projected in front of you, or turn off your vehicle, which Audi calls “welcome and exit lighting signatures”. There are actually five animation options to choose from, and while it certainly sounds like a fancy touch for a luxury car, that doesn’t seem enough to justify the price of an undoubtedly expensive option.
In more practical terms, the DML headlights can project a so-called light carpet onto the road and only illuminate the lane until they change lanes. At this point the carpet becomes wider to illuminate both lanes at the same time. The approach limits the dispersion of the headlights so as not to dazzle oncoming traffic. This is combined with a low beam aimed at the roadside, illuminating people and other hazards that might otherwise go unnoticed if a vehicle’s bright high beam is not turned on.
A series of chevron arrows are also visible within the light carpet, indicating the location of the vehicle’s tires in the lane. It can be helpful to give drivers a clue that they are on the right track to hit a dangerous pothole or plow straight through an unfortunate pile of roadkill so they have enough time to gently get out of the way. It’s a more nuanced approach to making night driving safer. and while the introduction of more electronic components increases the likelihood that something will break or go wrong (repairing a regular headlight is as easy as replacing a new lightbulb), This is a technology that potentially everyone on the road can benefit from, not just the person behind the wheel of their e-tron Sportback. Hopefully US Regulators will eventually give it a chance.