You might think that tail-lights are an odd place for innovation, but OLED tail-lights are becoming the latest refresh for luxury rides, with Mercedes announcing their addition to the new two-door S-Class Coupe and Cabriolet shown at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show, following their use by BMW and Audi.
Mercedes uses 33 individually controlled OLED panels in each module — the video above shows their ability to ripple rather pleasingly, but it doesn’t seem that Mercedes will use this ability to have them double as indicator lights, since separate turn signals are included.
“The total of 66 ultra-flat OLEDs act like floating elements inside the tail lamp”, says Mercedes. “In addition, they emit a highly homogeneous light pattern in all directions and form a unique day and night design. Locking and unlocking the vehicle is additionally emphasised by an animated dynamic light sequence with subsequent dimming-up of the tail lights. Of course, the OLED tail lamps also employ the usual Mercedes-Benz multi-level technology with different levels of intensity for brake lamps and turn signal indicators depending on the driving condition and ambient brightness (day/night).”
The new lights appear to have been made by the leader in OLED televisions, LG.Display, with LG Electronics Germany releasing a short press release (spotted by OLED-info) showing the Mercedes design. The next few years will be interesting for OLED display screens in automotive use as front-panel displays, which are expected to appear in 2018 as safety abd reliability testing is completed. While such smaller displays could come from various sources, LG.Display (sister company to LG Electronics) is already approaching capacity for large (TV-sized) OLED screens in its current fabrication plant. While a new Guangzhou plant is planned to open in 2019, there will be competition between automotive use of OLED and the many TV companies now using LG’s OLED panels (LG Electronics, Bang&Olufsen, Grundig, Loewe, Panasonic, Philips, Sony and more). Since automotive applications have higher margins than the notoriously low-margin TV business, if fabrication capacity is shifted that way, some commentators are foreseeing a shortage of larger panels for TVs in the making. The OLED panels to Audi and BMW are, however, provided by OSRAM, so for tail-lights at least, other players are in the game..
The S-Class has been used for lighting innovation before, with the night view assist system introduced back in 2014 using infrared light up front, invisible to the human eye and so able to illuminate the road beyond normal levels without dazzling oncoming traffic, with the image from an infrared camera mounted on the inside of the windscreen displayed in the instrument cluster.