BMW Developing OLEDs for Motorcycle Lighting

BMW Developing OLEDs for Motorcycle Lighting

Organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs, are innovative, efficient and sustainable light sources that BMW will be fitting in its vehicles in the near future under the name BMW Organic Light. In OLEDs, the light is emitted by wafer-thin semi-conductive layers made from organic materials. OLEDs work very efficiently by design and generate very little heat as a result. BMW Organic Light thus helps to further reduce CO2 emissions.

BMW Organic Light (OLED)

BMW Organic Light (OLED)

Rather than being emitted in the form of points, the light generated by OLEDs shines out over a relatively large area compared to LEDs and is extremely homogeneous in appearance. This characteristic is down to their special design. In contrast to conventional LEDs, where the light is produced in semiconductor crystals, the light in OLEDs is generated in extremely thin semi-conductive layers made from organic materials, mostly polymers. Together with the conducting layers, these are hermetically sealed between two thin glass plates or plastic films. The entire set of active, light emitting layers measures a mere 400 nanometers or so in height (one nanometer is equal to one millionth of a millimeter). That is some 150 times thinner than a human hair, which measures around 0.06 millimeters across on average. The complete component is about 0.8 to 1.5 millimeters in height overall.

BMW-Organic-Light-2Due to the very low power consumption and weight of OLEDs, BMW Organic Light also helps to reduce the fuel consumption of vehicles with combustion engines, extend the range of electric cars and, as a result, cut CO2 pollution.

The sustainability of this technology represents a further major benefit. The manufacture of organic light-emitting diodes does not involve any costly and scarce raw materials such as “rare earths”. What’s more, the quantity of organic substances and metals used is so low that it will be possible to simply dispose of OLEDs in the waste glass container at the end of their service life.

OLEDs open up a range of new opportunities for lighting on BMW motorcycles.

Although BMW Motorrad has already made significant progress with the introduction of LED technology for main headlights, daytime running lights, rear lights and indicators in comparison with conventional incandescent lighting technology, developments in the area of LEDs are still ongoing.

With the development of organic LEDs (OLEDs), it has proven possible to create a thin-layered component from organic semiconductor material. Compared to the inorganic material already used in LEDs in standard production vehicles, the application of OLEDS in BMW Organic Light promises a range of benefits. Because of the design as a thin-layered element, for example, it is possible to produce very thin, flexible displays for smartphones or even lighting units for motor vehicles.

Prototype OLED taillight on a BMW K1600GTL.

Prototype OLED taillight on a BMW K1600GTL.

The inorganic LEDs we currently encounter in many application areas operate with a semiconductor crystal embedded in a conical recess that acts as a reflector. The luminous intensity achieved in this way is not constant across the entire angle of radiation, however. This means that the light from an LED lamp always seems less bright to the human eye the more it is seen from the side. This is why current LED lamp units in cars always have optical aids like highly developed reflectors aimed at reducing this effect and achieving a relatively homogeneous luminous intensity with the greatest possible radiant angle and viewing angle, thus ensuring the “strength” of the light to the human eye.

On the other hand, BMW Organic Light permits a lamp unit to be created whose luminous intensity is almost constant across the entire radiant angle, coming very close in physical terms to the theoretical characteristics of a so-called ideal Lambert radiator. This makes it possible to dispense with complex optical aids such as reflectors, for example, and together with the thin-layered, slim-line design of the OLEDs, whose backing material can be used directly as an electrical conductor, opens up entirely new design options for the development of light units for BMW motorcycles.

At present, the luminous density of the OLEDs is still insufficient and more development work is needed. While this is adequate at present for a rear light, lighting elements like the brake light or indicator need reinforcing. This is achieved through the use of additional conventional LEDs. However, these hybrid solutions permit a new visual language. The staggered arrangement of the almost completely freely configurable OLED elements creates a highly three-dimensional lighting effect that viewers find very attractive. On the other hand, the familiar conventional LEDs ensure sufficient luminous density.

While such hybrid solutions involving OLEDs and LEDs could make their way into BMW standard motorcycles within the next two or three years, it will take a few more years yet to develop brake lights, indicators or even headlights that use OLED technology alone. Assuming that their luminous density is significantly improved, OLEDs will possibly lead to completely redesigned, more attractive lamp units for BMW motorcycles. However, as well as greater visual appeal, BMW Motorrad is also concerned with achieving maximum performance and safety in its motorcycles, thus also maximizing safe riding fun.

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