Magna unveils Breakthrough Lighting technology.

In what can truly be called a breakthrough, carmaker Magna unveiled its new Breakthrough Lighting on Thursday, which could really change the way lighting is used as a styling element in vehicles. Although in recent years car manufacturers have used holographic taillights, matrix taillights, illuminated edges and other solutions, this new lighting technology can change the game for automotive design.

Rob Sele, Global Product Director for External Trunk Gates, outlines the possibilities of the new Breakthrough Lighting.

What is?

Ready for production in 2023, the company unveiled a new prototype rear tailgate technology called the Litgate, which illuminates conventional LED lighting through a polycarbonate lens. But the technology can also work on any panel of the vehicle body, as long as it is made of a similar thermoplastic material. The new lighting solution allows the lighting to remain hidden until it lights up, including brake lights, turn signals and spare lights. As you might expect, a wide range of color and pattern options will be available.

“Magna’s penetrating lighting allows for greater design freedom and offers more options for brand differentiation, which can enhance our customers’ experience,” said Graham Burrow, global president of Magna Exteriors, in a statement. “As the industry builds significant momentum around electrified and autonomous vehicles, we expect more desire for developments such as those that are seamlessly integrated into exterior surfaces.”

Variety of uses

In addition to the ability to hide the lighting in the body panels, the new technology can be used as a new feature in car design, with the lighting serving as a decorative element rather than strictly as a functional one. This can allow designers to use lighting as built-in stylistic features and create intricate textured illuminated surfaces.

Magna tailgate lighting technology
Magna’s new lighting technology allows for a variety of designs and colors.

The lighting can also be communicative, show messages to pedestrians or in the future be used for communication between vehicles. Illuminated lighting can also be used for more prosaic tasks, such as advertising or branding. Magna does this by drilling microscopic holes – 1.5 microns in diameter – which are then covered with a transparent coating so you can’t feel them. Gathered together by the thousands, they look like one element.

More freedom of action in lighting

This move comes after the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, approved the use of advanced headlamps known as “adaptive main-beam headlamps” earlier this year in response to Toyota’s 2013 petition to allow the lights. Volkswagen and BMW have also petitioned NHTSA to use the lights. This move comes more than a decade after their use was allowed in Europe, Canada, Japan and other countries.

Adaptive lighting, also known as matrix headlights, divides the beam of traditional headlights into much smaller LEDs at the pixel level, which can be controlled individually by an electronic control unit and a traffic detection system to reduce glare from oncoming drivers. Unlike traditional headlights, LEDs are semiconductors, so they can be controlled by changing the current flowing through them.

Magna new technology for lighting the tailgate
The lighting can also be communicative, show messages to pedestrians or in the future be used for communication between vehicles.

Until the NHTSA decision, the lights could not comply with US rules, as a 1967 law dictated that headlights use separate elements for high beam and low beam. Adaptive headlamps use the same light elements for both beams. Until the rule was changed, they could not be used.

Slow path to the new law

The new law was proposed in 2018, but was changed only recently. NHTSA is required by the Two-Party Infrastructure Act, adopted in November, to draft a final law by the end of 2023, allowing the extended use of headlights.

Advances in lighting can improve pedestrian safety, with almost 1 in 6 road deaths or 6,236 in 2020 being pedestrian deaths, with 72% of pedestrian deaths occurring at night.

Lighting has come a long way since the first acetylene and oil lamps were used in cars. The first electric lights were available as an option for Columbia Electric in 1898, with the first modern system integrated into the electric system appearing on a Cadillac in 1912 along with the electric starter.

The first high / low beam bulb appeared in 1924, but a foot-operated dimmer switch for its control appeared only three years later. Sealed beam headlights were the next advance in 1939. Halogen headlights debuted in Europe in the 1960s, but would not be approved for use in the United States until the late 1970s. Finally, in 2004 the first LED lights were introduced.

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