Advancements in lighting, LEDs in particular, have led to an unprecedented amount of freedom for exterior designers in the auto industry. Vehicles like the GMC Hummer EV and Ford F-150 Lightning are using those lights to communicate things like battery and payload status to their owners.
Tier 1 auto supplier Magna, which has business in many parts of the auto industry, has gone a step further with a new system it calls Breakthrough Lighting.
The new type of display lighting is invisible on thermoplastic body panels until illuminated. It can be used communicatively, for example the vehicle could light up the word “autonomous” to tell other drivers what mode it is currently in. It can be functional by telling an owner if the doors are unlocked or if it’s running low on charge. And it can also be used for decoration and differentiation as we can see in the video above with different patterns, colors and shapes.
The new Nissan Ariya employs a less sophisticated version of the technology on its rear where a smoked black trim piece hides rear LED lighting until the lights are turned on either at a switch or by pressing the brake pedal.
Magna says it will have the technology ready next year, and as a demonstration it created Litgate, a thermoplastic tailgate that shows how the new lighting features can be used.
“Magna’s Breakthrough Lighting enables increased design freedom and features more options for brand differentiation that can elevate our customers’ experiences,” said Grahame Burrow, Global President of Magna Exteriors in a press release. “As the industry builds significant momentum around electrified and autonomous vehicles, we expect more desire for developments like this that are seamlessly integrated into exterior surfaces.”
The system can be used with clear polycarbonate, meaning it could be used directly on a window as well as on complicated body surfaces. Magna says it has already used it on tinted polycarbonate during testing. Additionally, the color palette is near unlimited. The video shows a red body panel with blue lighting coming from underneath, but the sky’s the limit.
The customization continues in the shape of the lighting signature and the intensity. A brand could, in essence, draw any sort of light, keeping the same design over many different nameplates. Or each could get its own shape using the same basic part.
“Lighting has become a key styling element for modern vehicle design, particularly as the industry shifts to electrified vehicles,” Paul Waatti, industry analysis manager at AutoPacific told Newsweek. “Magna’s Breakthrough Lighting offers an opportunity for automakers to further inject brand identity and create an interesting and engaging experience that feels personalized to vehicle owners.”
“Beyond aesthetics, Magna’s Breakthrough Lighting could offer additional safety and communication to other drivers on the road, like a driverless autonomous vehicle signaling or understanding there’s a problem ahead, for example,” Waatti said.
Similar effects can also be found on the Hyundai Santa Cruz, Tucson and others. The Korean brand uses a thin coating of metal to block out light coming in, so it looks gray. The lights are then extra bright to pierce the covering. They even use sensors to make sure they don’t get too hot.
The Magna system uses laser ablation, which removes micro amounts of paint and primer and allows light to transmit through the translucent material with 1,000s of small paint holes per hex, the company tells us. All of which is unnoticeable to the naked eye.
Look for this system next year, though the company wouldn’t say which automaker we might see the feature on. There are personal benefits to the tech, but the commercial sector could see an even greater usage, which Magna is also exploring.
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