When most people talk about "light" in conjunction with the laserlight, they aren't talking about its weight. The laserlight's headlights are groundbreaking. Made from a combination of matrix LED and laser technologies, the headlights cast enough light to allow the driver to see through five football fields' worth of darkness.
To understand how revolutionary this is, you need to understand what LEDs and lasers are. LEDs are light emitting diodes. They're essentially tiny light bulbs, but they take a really long time to burn out, they don't get hot and they slide right into electrical circuits. Their flexibility makes LEDs ideal for electronics, which is why they're so prominent in ultra-thin TVs and other home electronics. LEDs have been used in car headlights for a while, but what makes the LEDs in the Sport quattro laserlight concept so revolutionary is that they illuminate themselves based on the road ahead. Using a Matrix LED system, a computer system in the car "reads" the road ahead and lights up certain LEDs in the headlights depending on where the driver needs to see. So, the Audi Matrix LED system can allow the driver to see down into dips and around corners — areas that would otherwise remain dark with conventional headlights [source: KBB].
Lasers emit light via radiation. In fact, LASER stands for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation" (and now you have a fun fact to share at your next dinner party). Further, laser light is very concentrated. Lighting a light bulb is like spilling a bucket of water: The light goes in all directions, following the path of least resistance. Laser light, by contrast, is more like shooting water out of a hose. The light goes only in the direction you point it.
Combining Matrix LEDs and lasers into car headlights makes the headlights adaptive, bright and concentrated. They're also efficient. The lasers in the laserlight's headlights don't take up any extra space. They're smaller than the typical LED; each is just a few microns wide. With the lasers, the laserlight's headlamps have three times the luminosity of LED headlights. The laser headlights won't deplete the Sport quattro laserlight's battery much either, as Audi says they use less power than an LED system.
The laser headlights in the Sport quattro laserlight aren't just for electronics shows either. The technology will be used on the Audi R-18 e-Tron quattro prototype race car. So while we're a bit far from having cars with laser beams that will allow you to literally slice your way through traffic, at least the laser LED matrix headlights on the Audi Sport quattro laserlight concept will let you see how long that line of traffic snakes ahead of you.
Author's Note: How the Audi Sport Quattro Laserlight Concept Works
It seems a little odd for an automaker to hang its hat on headlight design, but it's been working for Audi. The car company was the first to use LED headlights — in a sexy, cat-eye shape, no less — across much of its model lineup. And while the headlights on the laserlight concept may seem like overkill, when it comes to driving, being able to see hazards as early as possible is what keeps us safe, and what makes the laserlight's headlamps so revolutionary.
- Audi AG. "Audi in Rallying." (Dec. 29, 2014) http://www.audi.com/corporate/en/company/history/motorsport/audi-in-rallying.html
- Audi MediaServices. "World Premier at 2014 CES in Las Vegas: The Audi Sport Quattro Laserlight Concept Car." Jan. 1, 2014. (Oct. 30, 2014) https://www.audi-mediaservices.com/publish/ms/content/en/public/pressemitteilungen/2014/01/02/world_premiere_at.html
- Audi USA. "LED Technology." (Dec. 29, 2014) http://www.audiusa.com/innovation/design/LED?csref=92225155266327486
- BMW USA. "BMW i8 Technical Specifications." (Dec. 29, 2014) http://www.bmw.com/com/en/newvehicles/i/i8/2014/showroom/technical_data.html
- Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) "Adaptive Headlights Help Drivers Spot Objects Earlier; Glare Not Excessive." Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Oct. 9, 2014. (Dec. 24, 2014) http://www.iihs.org/iihs/sr/statusreport/article/49/7/3
- Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI). "Crash Avoidance Features Reduce Crashes, Insurance Claims Study Shows; Autonomous Braking and Adaptive Headlights Yield Biggest Benefits." Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. July 3, 2012. (Dec. 24, 2014) http://www.iihs.org/iihs/news/desktopnews/crash-avoidance-features-reduce-crashes-insurance-claims-study-shows-autonomous-braking-and-adaptive-headlights-yield-biggest-benefits
- Joseph, Noah. "Audi Re-illuminates Sport Quattro with Laserlight Concept for CES." Autoblog. Jan. 2, 2014. (Oct. 30, 2014) http://www.autoblog.com/2014/01/02/audi-sport-quattro-laserlight-concept-ces/
- Kelley Blue Book. "Audi to Introduce New Matrix LED Headlights in 2013." Jan. 24, 2013. (Dec. 29, 2014) http://www.kbb.com/car-news/all-the-latest/audi-to-introduce-new-matrix-led-headlights-in-2013/2000009003/
- Phenix, Mathew. "Audi Sport Quattro Laserlight Concept Dazzels at CES." BBC Autos. Jan. 9, 2014. (Oct. 30, 2014) http://www.bbc.com/autos/story/20140108-audi-laserlight-dazzles-in-vegas
- Rally America. "What is Rally?" 2012. (Dec. 24, 2014) http://www.rally-america.com/what_is_rally
- Santos, Alexis. "Audi's Sport Quattro Laserlight Concept Officially Debuts at CES" Engadget. Jan. 7, 2014. (Oct. 30, 2014) http://www.engadget.com/2014/01/07/audi-sport-quattro-laserlight/
- Stoklosa, Alexander. "Audi Sport Quattro Laser Light Concept: Maintaining Audi's Lighting Leadership [2014 CES]" Car and Driver. Jan. 1, 2014. (Oct. 30, 2014) http://blog.caranddriver.com/audi-sport-quattro-laser-light-concept-maintaining-audis-lighting-leadership-2014-ces/
- Toyota Motor America. "Compare Results." (Dec. 29, 2014) http://www.toyota.com/prius-plug-in-hybrid/compare.html#compare/fuel_economy/39626/39355/39098/35588
- Washington Post TV. "Audi Sport Quattro Laserlight Concept at CES 2014." The Washington Post. Jan. 10, 2014. (Oct. 30, 2014) http://www.washingtonpost.com/posttv/business/technology/audi-sport-quattro-laserlight-concept-at-ces-2014/2014/01/10/09b9b33c-79f3-11e3-b1c5-739e63e9c9a7_video.html