Case History #1: Laser-Based Vehicle Lighting
In 1994 TIG began a program for Ford Motor Company to evaluate the potential of semiconductor light sources for automotive applications.
Surveying the available technology and its trends
We carried out an extensive review of the technical literature, interviewed key people in industry, academia and government laboratories and visited selected facilities. The results of this study showed that diode lasers had the highest potential for efficiency and cost effectiveness so much so that when their full potential is achieved they will dominate the lighting industry. Moreover, our quantitative analysis of the rate of improvement of performance and cost effectiveness indicated that diode lasers could be practical for vehicle signal lights early in the 21st Century.
However, the potential of these devices for lighting was not readily perceived because there was no available practical means for reducing the brightness to levels acceptable to standards of eye safety and comfort.
Carrying out design, prototype fabrication and testing
Working with Ford personnel and with Ford support, TIG initiated a development program aimed at creating optical systems that reduced brightness to acceptable levels while being compact, efficient and inexpensive. A series of optical systems was conceived which made use of total internal reflection, refraction and diffraction in various combinations. We carried out computer simulations, built rapid prototypes and applied proprietary optical testing methods. This phase of the program resulted in optics which reduced the brightness to levels typical of conventional brake lights (a reduction of roughly a million times) with devices a few millimeters thick and efficiencies several times those typical of conventional luminaires. Their characteristics are such that they are considerably less expensive to manufacture than present lamps as well.
The nature of these optics facilitates many novel styling features. In subsequent phases of the program prototypes demonstrating these ideas in static displays and in various show cars were built for Ford and later, its subsidiary Visteon. These have been shown in auto shows and other exhibits around the world. In 1999 Ford/Visteon was awarded prizes by Popular Science magazine and the Society of Automotive Engineers for their laser lighting technology work.
Working with standards setting organizations
TIG supplied consulting services of an internationally known expert on laser eye safety who was able to verify the correctness of these designs from a safety standpoint.
Developing intellectual property positions for the client
This program has resulted in a large and growing list of patents. Many of these have inventors from Ford/Visteon and TIG jointly. The participants within Ford/Visteon have received several internal awards.