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Audi wants to reinvent car headlights

Posting in Design

Audi's LED lighting system combines cameras and sensors with computers to automatically adjust exterior headlights

Car headlights have long been equipped with just two settings: high or low. German luxury automaker Audi wants to break that tradition by introducing variable settings that will adjust based upon surroundings and road conditions, but may need a decades-old U.S. law to change before it's able to bring the technology to market.

Last week, BusinessWeek's Angela Greiling Keane wrote an article about the regulatory hurdle that Audi could be facing with its upcoming A8 sedan. A 1968 U.S. regulation specifies that headlights should switch between - you guessed it - high and low. Audi's new automated lighting is much more complicated.

Other automakers including BMW, General Motors, and Mercedes-Benz are facing similar regulatory conundrums and want to see the rule changed, Keane reports. Changing the rule could take more than just lobbying - the safety of any new lighting systems must be proven and studied.

I'm reminded of the 1948 Tucker Sedan, an automobile notable for its novel direction headlight that could illuminate around corners as the driver turned. That safety feature was well ahead of its time, but a U.S. government investigation - that some say was prompted by the influence of the "Big Three" automakers - brought about the untimely demise of the company. Only a few of Tucker's designs were ever built.

Audi will have better luck because other big automakers are aligned with it and fully realize that expensive lighting options will help pad their margins. It would be good to see an appropriate government response to new safety innovations in vehicles - even if it comes far too late for Tucker.

(image credit: Audi)

— By on April 4, 2013, 1:28 PM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure