Laser technology has been around since the late 1950s but was originally used just for scientific research. The word laser stands for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation" obviously an acronym developed by a well-meaning Physicist somewhere. Today, lasers are common devices are being used in thousands of consumer and commercial applications. Up until recently, lasers hadn't made there way into automobiles but that is about to change.
About the Technology
The magnitude of laser technology covers a large gamut. At the large end are massive lasers that are so powerful that they can burn through metal plates. For consumer purposes, however, most lasers are tiny, chip-based devices that are used in applications ascommon as CD/ DVD players, laser printers and barcode readers. Are you familiar with "blue ray discs"? The term "blue ray" refers to a special laser diode that emits light in the blue section of the light spectrum.
As we hinted at earlier, laser technology is about to make its debut in the automotive industry. Care to guess where they will be used on cars and trucks? If you guessed "headlights," then you are right. Lasers are being developed to take the place of conventional headlights. However, they are being used in a way that you may not expect. Today the chip-based technology that is being used to light up the road is Light Emitting Diode (LED). LEDs are now installed on some high-end cars and they throw a very powerful beam of light. A major advantage LED technology has is that they are very small and can be packed into small spaces unlike the old-style headlights with huge reflectors. Automotive designers just love LEDs because they can design them into just about any shape they can imagine.
How laser lights work
Laser light is emitted from chip-based technology just as it is from LEDs. However, the light that comes from laser diodes is more than 1,000 times as powerful than similar size LEDs. The folks at Genesis of North Atlanta, a local Genesis dealer in Kennesaw, GA, filled us in on what Genesis is working on. They are using blue laser diodes to illuminate a white phosphorus target, and the light emitted by this target will be bounced off a reflector and then out the front lens. As it turns out, this is a very efficient way to make very powerful light systems.
Why is this better than LEDs?
LED technology is very powerful too, and inexpensive, but the chips generate a great deal of heat. The vehicles being sold now with LED headlamps are using LED chips that have massive heatsinks attached. This is bulky and expensive. The result is that, at least for the near future, LED technology will be used for side indicators and tail lights, not a great deal for headlights. The power that needs to be dissipated is simply too great. This is where laser headlights come into play.
As we mentioned, using laser diodes to illuminate a phosphor target is a very efficient way to make light. The result is an intensely bright headlight that stays far cooler than any other light technology. Not only is it an engineer's dream, Its also great for car body designers who can now put the headlights in almost any shape they desire.
As with any cutting-edge technology, laser headlights will be quite expensive at first but you know the drill. After a few years when the technology has amortized itself, prices will start to come down and we will see them on mid-level cars and trucks.
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