February 16, 2016 Volume 12 Issue 07

Designfax weekly eMagazine

Subscribe Today!
image of Designfax newsletter


View Archives


Manufacturing Center
Product Spotlight

Modern Applications News
Metalworking Ideas For
Today's Job Shops

Tooling and Production
Strategies for large
metalworking plants

Walk this way -- BMW creates carpet-of-light path to your car door

You've just enjoyed dinner at your favorite restaurant, and now it's dark outside. Unfortunately, the restaurant parking lot is rather poorly lit, but you know what to do. With just a press of the key fob, a striped carpet of light appears on the ground illuminating a curved path to your car.

This clever design element, available on the new BMW 7-series, is based on special micro-optics developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering (IOF) in Jena, Germany.

Microlenses project light onto the entry area of the new BMW 7 Series. [ Photo: BMW]



"Thanks to these specially designed micro-optics, it's possible to project light beams from the underbody to the ground in a striped pattern covering around four square meters at the vehicle doors on both sides," says Dr. Andreas Brauer, Micro-optic Systems department head at the IOF. These guide lights are not a completely new feature, and other premium carmakers are also working on similar systems for their vehicles. To date, though, these lighting systems have been installed in either the exterior mirror or the door, which can be problematic design: When integrated into the mirrors, the light moves away from the path it is supposed to illuminate when the door is opened; placed at the bottom of the door, the light cannot reach the ground below until the door is opened.

The BMW Welcome Light Carpet is different. With this system, the lighting module is installed on the body sill to the vehicle underbody under the driver's door.

But how is it possible for the light to travel "around the corner" to the path leading to the door?

"Our micro-optics feature microlenses that aim the light directly at the desired surface," explains the IOF's Dr. Peter Schreiber, who oversaw the project. Initially, the IOF scientists' goal was to create and use tiny-yet-powerful digital projectors, such as those used in smartphones. In physical terms, this design is a contradiction, because a smaller projector produces less light. But the IOF experts found a solution to this problem. They made the projectors extremely small, but they put many of them together in a honeycomb array.

"We can alter the intensity of the light by altering the number of microprojectors used," says Brauer. "Regardless of whether we use 150 projectors, as with the BMW Welcome Light Carpet, or we use 3,000 of them, the thickness of the array still remains within a range that is measurable in millimeters."

[ Photo: BMW]



Projection lenses can be arranged individually
One positive side effect of this type of array lighting proved quite significant during the development of the Welcome Light Carpet. The projection lenses that catch the light and reflect it onto another surface can be individually positioned relative to the light source. As a result, the images reflected by the individual lenses in different locations can be made to precisely overlap one another -- so the light does not really "bend" around.

"This means we can project a high-quality and high-intensity image even if the angles of illumination are extremely low," says designer Marcel Sieler of BMW, who is also a member of the IOF team. "In its first consumer application as the BMW Welcome Light Carpet, this technology gives the BMW 7 Series a new nighttime look."

For the path-light application, the IOF scientists constructed a 10 x 10 mm micro-optic assembly fitted with a glass cover. To protect the sensitive device against stones thrown upward while driving, the opening was positioned on the underbody facing away from the direction of travel. Meanwhile, minor smudges of dirt on the glass cover are no problem for the specialized optics, because the numerous individual projectors represent a multi-channel lighting design. Dirt may reduce the brightness under certain circumstances, but the light will never be completely blotted out.

The BMW Welcome Light Carpet is now standard equipment on the new BMW 7 Series.

"This marks the first time our technology has been applied in a volume market," says Brauer excitedly.

And the development team also has its eyes on new application areas.

"There is an extremely wide range of possible uses for this type of array lighting," says Brauer, "extending from safety technologies and medical applications to mechanical engineering and traditional signal lighting."

Source: Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering (IOF)

Published February 2016

Rate this article

Walk this way -- BMW creates carpet-of-light path to your car door]

Very interesting, with information I can use
Interesting, with information I may use
Interesting, but not applicable to my operation
Not interesting or inaccurate

E-mail Address (required):


Type the number:

Copyright © 2016 by Nelson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction Prohibited.
View our terms of use and privacy policy