See and be seen – that’s the golden rule of safe traffic. Most people find it tiring to drive in the dark, rain or bad weather, and the risk of an accident is higher, too. Headlamps, then, are on the receiving end of special attention when a new car is being designed.

The development of something as apparently mundane as headlamps can actually be exciting and compelling work. Using sketches and 3D data provided by designers, the developers have to design and adapt the lights to suit the new model. Not only do headlamps play an aesthetic role, i.e. they need to look good, but they also have to be producible at a reasonable cost and completely functional.

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The development process therefore involves the use of a variety of virtual and physical models that can be worked on and which give other development staff the chance to make comments and suggestions.

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Petr Kristl

Head of Lighting Development
at ŠKODA

The most exciting tool available to developers at ŠKODA in Mladá Boleslav is the unique night-time driving simulation lab. “This is the only laboratory of its kind anywhere in the Volkswagen Group,” says Petr Kristl, Head of Lighting Development at ŠKODA. “It gives our employees a unique opportunity to test lights designed for new models before the prototype testing stage. The virtual night-time driving tool enables us to monitor and evaluate the quality of the light path, optimise the lighting functions and, consequently, reduce the risk of extra costs cropping up further down the line.”

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Although the evaluation specialist are working in a lab, they actually sit in an authentic vehicle interior, with their hands on the steering wheel and their feet on the pedals, and they see simulated static and dynamic night-time driving situations on a screen in front of them. This is made possible by a three-channel, half-cylinder projection system with wide-angle high-res output (4,992 x 1,080 pixels). The projection process is controlled by three single-chip DLP projectors with optical masks fitted in front of the lenses to achieve perfect image quality and perfect black-colour configurations in night-time scenes.

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The parameters under review include standard light-path properties, such as width, range and homogeneity. Mathematical models make it possible to monitor various functions, including MATRIX high-beam masking. MATRIX is the latest type of headlamp, designed to change the intensity and width of the light beam in response to changing ambient conditions while switching the individual LED chips on and off, even when full beam is on, to ensure that the road is properly illuminated without dazzling oncoming drivers. “Dazzling is a good example to illustrate what virtual night-time driving is all about,” says Petr Kristl. “Evaluators not only record situations where they dazzle oncoming cars, but they are also able to repeat the scene and monitor the effects of the settings they are using. The simulator can also be used to assess how much drivers will be dazzled by their own headlamps (for example, when the light is reflected off of large traffic signs and road markings), and a whole raft of other useful data.”

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Just as basic-level halogen lights once gave way to more powerful xenon lights, now the latest trend is to make maximum use of LED technologies. LED lights are gradually appearing in all ŠKODA model lines, the key benefit being improved lighting performance compared to halogen lighting. Their range is longer and, most importantly, their colour is close to daytime light, i.e. rather than yellowish, the colour tone is really white. That is easier on the eyes, so they don’t become so strained, and this makes driving safer. What is more, the lifespan of LED lights is longer than that of halogens and xenons. While the maximum life of ordinary bulbs can be counted in thousands of hours, the lifespan of LED lights is several times longer.

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LED technology is already used for daytime running lights in all ŠKODA models. Full-LED headlamps, i.e. LEDs in low beams, high beams and direction indicators, are available in the OCTAVIA, KAROQ and KODIAQ. The remodelled ŠKODA FABIA features standard-fit LED headlamps and LED rear light clusters.

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