The future is bright for LEDs

  • 05-Jun-2009 05:01 EDT
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Grote’s new LightForm is a thin, flexible sheet of LED light that can be formed into a variety of shapes and sizes. The future could include integrating thin-film solar cells into LightForm to eliminate wiring.

Beyond “fueling” auxiliary power systems, solar energy could also be harnessed in the future for vehicle lighting. Imagine walking outside with a light strip, slapping it on the side of your vehicle, and that’s it—no holes, no wires, no maintenance—while meeting federal requirements. Rick Bozich, Product Manager of Advanced Technology for Grote Industries, shared that exact scenario in discussing the possibilities of its new 1-mm (0.04-in) -thick LightForm LED technology.

“Inductive power is prevalent in the medical industry today; I don’t see why it couldn’t be applied to our industry as well,” said Bozich. “In five to 10 years, maybe we integrate LightForm with thin-film solar cells; we take these marker lights that are thin and lightweight, and incorporate some sort of renewable energy source so you don’t have to worry about assembling it into the OEM’s wire harness.”

Three years in the making within Grote’s R&D group, LightForm not only offers aerodynamic, energy-use, and weight advantages but also aids design flexibility both outside and inside the vehicle with its ability to be bent around corners, over contoured areas, and into complicated shapes.

“Tomorrow’s truck interiors, as well as a variety of other vehicle interiors including aircraft and watercraft, will be much more interesting, attractive, and functional because of LightForm,” Dominic Grote, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, predicted at the product’s reveal at the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS).

The company plans to draw on its optical expertise to engineer “never-before-seen” light patterns and configurations.

“We can achieve the same FMVSS 108 photometric requirements for a P2-rated marker lamp, with just 2% of the material used in a traditional LED lamp,” Grote said, “all while eliminating the installation cost and time associated with drilling holes, affixing mounting brackets, and utilizing traditional fasteners.”

Grote engineers have already subjected the product to a range of stress tests including salt baths, extreme humidity, heat, and cold. “LightForm is already hardened and robust—far beyond the mere prototype stage,” Grote said. He expects product launch before year end, with first commercial application coming in marker lighting and interiors.

As is the trend with passenger vehicles, LEDs will increasingly occupy the forward-lighting space for commercial vehicles in coming years, according to Brad Van Riper, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Truck-Lite Co. Inc., which introduced at MATS the industry’s first 7-in (178-mm) round, 12-V LED headlamp.

“If you believe that Haitz’s Law is going to continue—the current pace of doubling the intensity [of LEDs] every 18 to 24 months—you can’t help but believe that LED technology will likely become a key part of the forward-lighting strategy,” he said.

Adaptive forward lighting, where the headlamp moves in accordance with the steering wheel, is starting to emerge in passenger cars and will inevitably appear in commercial vehicles. Van Riper believes that LEDs will be an enabler for more advanced adaptive systems.

“The current technology is basically a reflector tied to a motor that rotates a mechanical device,” he explained. “Down the road there’s the potential, with the addition of a controller, to have a bank of LEDs light up and others shut down when you turn your steering wheel to move the beam in a [particular] direction.”

For a so-called full advanced front-lighting system, Van Riper envisions the truck driver never having to flip a switch, save for the practice of flashing the lights to communicate to another driver when it is safe to change lanes.

“My vision is that there’ll never be a switch on the truck to turn the headlamps on or off,” he opined. “Instead of having high beam and low beam, you’d have four beams that are dynamic and change not based on switching but perhaps on reading the data bus. The headlamps would work to fully optimize themselves based on speed and the conditions the driver is in.”

Such a system is possible by 2020, Van Riper said, but first regulatory hurdles must be cleared and the technology fully demonstrated.

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