Image of Matrix Laser headlight courtesy of Audi.

Image of Matrix Laser headlight courtesy of Audi.

Audi of America has begun working with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Michigan to develop a test procedure that will help foster changes to federal safety standards so that more kinds of adaptive headlight systems will be permitted.

Audi's goal is to get the company's advanced headlights into vehicles that can be sold in the U.S., just as they are in other countries, Audi said.

Because some of today’s adaptive headlight systems can automatically adjust brightness to avoid blinding oncoming drivers, a driver in a car equipped with such a system has no real need to operate high beams. But U.S. regulations haven’t kept pace with advanced headlight technology. All headlights in the U.S. market still must comply with an old rule requiring lights to have both low and high beams, and to emit light based on conventional patterns.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, based in Troy, N.Y., is now testing an Audi vehicle equipped with the Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB) that has been available in the European auto market for several years. Additionally, the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan, located in Ann Arbor, Mich., recently completed its own testing of ADB, which is based on technology known as MatrixBeam in Europe.

“The point of the new testing by the two schools is to build on the work Audi has performed with U.S. Transportation Department regulators in creating an up-to-date, objective rule that would take into account the highly advanced digital lighting capabilities presented by ADB,” Audi said. “Current federal regulations essentially ban any headlights using such systems, because ADB wasn’t envisioned many years ago when the headlight standard was written.” 

In the Audi technology, the system recognizes a preceding or oncoming vehicle at night, and a dynamically changing high beam actually avoids glaring out the other drivers by notching out those vehicles. It does this by carefully arraying its light emissions around those vehicles while still maintaining the maximum visibility of the high beam for the driver of the Audi.

Audi acknowledged that auto regulatory changes usually take a long time, and the automaker isn’t taking anything for granted.

“There are no guarantees that regulators will allow Audi to offer ADB in the U.S. market, and any rule changes are likely years away,” Audi said. “But with the help of the University of Michigan and RPI, Audi is moving closer to the goal of giving American drivers the advantage of having cars equipped with the most advanced headlight technology in the world.”