BMW is developing a new organic light emitting diode lighting system for cars and motorcycles.
Unlike conventional LEDs, organic LEDs (or OLEDs) uses wafer-thin semiconductive layers made from organic polymers to produce light. OLEDs are more efficient and emit less heat than LEDs. Regular LEDs emit light to a single point, so it appears less bright when seen from an angle. Conventional LED lighting uses reflectors to reduce this effect and create a relatively homogeneous light. OLEDs on the other hand, can shine their light across a wider area without very little loss of brightness and thus don’t need bulky reflective surfaces.
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The semiconductive layers in an OLED are incredibly thin, with an entire set of active light-emitting layers measuring about 150 times thinner than a human hair. The semiconductive layers are hermetically sealed with conducting layers between two thing glass plates or plastic films. All the layers combine for a thickness of between 0.8 to 1.5 mm.
At the moment, OLED technology has not advanced enough to completely provide all of a motorcycle’s lighting. The luminous density of OLEDs are adequate enough for a rear light, brake lights and turn signals need some help to make them bright enough for practical use.
A prototype OLED taillight design for a BMW K1600GTL uses OLEDs in the tail, brake and rear turn signals with reinforcement from conventional LEDs. This hybrid arrangement does dampen some of the advantages of OLEDs but they do allow for some interesting three-dimensional lighting effects.
BMW says it could introduce similar hybrid OLED and LED lighting on production motorcycles in the next two or three years, but the long term goal is to develop brake lights, turn indicators and even headlights using only OLED technology.