They may sound like pure science fiction, but laser-powered headlights have gone into series production. First presented at the 2011 Frankfurt International Motor Show, the technology was finally fitted into last year’s plug-in hybrid sports car, the BMW i8.
The laser lights illuminate a distance of 600m, twice that of LED lamps. Which means that even if you happen to be driving at a very silly 216kmh, you have a full 10 seconds to stop your car to avoid smashing into that wayward water buffalo wandering onto the highway. That’s how huge the improvement in margin of safety is.
The Peak had an opportunity to try out the system on the pitch-black rural B-roads in the south of France last November. The laser lights operate only in high beam and kick in above the speed of 60kmh. Once above the threshold, the road and surroundings in front are bathed in brilliant white light – BMW claims it’s the same “colour temperature” as daylight – and every cat’s eye pops up like Christmas decorations in Orchard Road.
Then, there’s the anti-dazzle feature. An oncoming van approaches from around a corner. The on-board camera on the BMW detects its presence and, within a split second, dips the headlights. When the vehicle moves out of sight, the high beams automatically turn on again.
BMW claims that the laser lights are 30 per cent more energy efficient than the already frugal LED lamps, handy in an electric vehicle such as the i8.
The cost, though, is 10,000 euros. Or, in the local context, an estimated S$64,000 after tax, which is why BMW is still mulling over whether to offer the option in Singapore. Plus it has limited usefulness on the well-lit streets here, unless one takes the car up to Malaysia regularly. In any case, nobody said it’s cheap to be on the cutting edge.