It looks like the days of the old 7-inch sealed beam headlamp are gone. sealed beam

While at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, I couldn’t help notice the exquisite details in some manufacturer’s headlights. Advances in technology has allowed them to really dress up the front end of the cars.The new advances in electronics have seen us go from sealed beams, halogen, zenon, LED and even Laser headlights.

The old days had us limited with the large round headlamps. Designers did their best with what at that time seemed like the best available. In fact it was. Regulations and limited tech meant we had to have a relatively high hoodline to incorporate the round headlamps. Some manufacturers actually hid the headlamps behind doors. This seemed like the only option to have a relatively sleek and sloping hoodline.

I was around when we finally had some advances to the rectangular headlights. This seemed like the best thing in the world. Finally we can lower the front end and have a bit more flexibility in design and MAYBE aerodynamics. Well maybe not aerodynamics.



These days we’ve went from those prehistoric examples shown above to halogen, zenon, HID, LED, Laser, etc. Not only do we have the examples of different technologies with various light output, but we also have tech to make them “smart”. I remember the coolest thing was when we went to a cooler color light output. It was so white that it looked like a blue-ish light coming toward you. Some people would complain about the light being too bright. I expect it was just so different that it stood out. But it was a step in the right direction as it gave you a better view of the road ahead.

The thing that I knew about but previously, but actually spent some time examining this year was the intricate designs of these new lighting packages. Designers have taken the steps to use headlights as another brand element of their models. For instance we’ve always known BMWs by the halo-rings on the headlights. LEDs have helped others do the same across their lines.

I took a particular liking to those headlights that had a lot of elements in them. They were jewel-like in their appearance. I’m sure this was the desired effect as they are typically found on higher end vehicles.

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Over the past few years we are on the brink of some wonderful advances that allow us a much better view of the road. One of the better advances is what both BMW and Mercedes identifies as Adaptive Headlights. Both manufacturers allow you to run with your high beam headlights on all of the time. This typically causes a problem for other vehicles. However these smart headlights will not turn the high-beams off like older models, but in fact turn, adjust to form a dark path that follows the oncoming vehicles avoiding that dangerous high-beam glare.


BMW and Mercedes approach this benefit in different ways. BMW essentially turns and adjusts the individual beams to follow the other vehicles. Mercedes has multi-elements that are controlled individually. Currently 24 elements and eventually 84 elements that each aim a beam of light right where it is needed to light the road but avoid other vehicles. Onboard cameras and systems allow these lighting packages to work flawlessly.

Here is a look at BMW’s system.


Here is a look at the Mercedes system.

Oh yes, let’s not forget Audi and their system. So it seems everyone is developing systems that allow better vision. The only problem is these enhanced systems are NOT AVAILABLE in the United States at this time. Federal regulations prevent them from being applied on vehicles in or bound to the US.  However, I do know in the case of BMW, you can “code” your vehicle to turn this feature back on. Since vehicles are controlled by a central computer, several options are installed but not turned on for our vehicles. These vehicles can have someone hack into the system to turn it back on. You didn’t hear that from me.

In any event, we’ve come a long way in the wonderful and useful lighting systems on vehicles. I’m sure the future will hold more efficient, brighter and smarter systems for our safety and enjoyment.

Keep up the good work manufacturers.