When you think about a laser, it’s usually a device that can cut through steel, provide you with a lightshow, or possibly entertain the cat, but the laser is rapidly gaining a new role, that of a light source. When BMW’s 2015 plug-in hybrid i8 is released this year, it is expected to have the first laser-powered headlights. The laser can provide a more focused, brighter beam than current LED headlights in a more compact package. Audi will also be demonstrating a concept Quattro Sport vehicle with laser headlights at this year’s International CES show.
Headlights are not the only application where lasers are being used as a light source; it is also starting to occur in the movie theater. Within a few months, the Seattle Cinerama owned by Microsoft Billionaire Paul Allen will become the first commercial theater with a laser projection system. Red, green, and blue laser light is blended together and used to project the image on the screen using conventional digital projection. Not only does the laser provide a brighter light source for large source for newer technologies like light-robbing 3D, it also has a much longer life than the high-power Xenon bulbs currently used and is more energy-efficient.
For both laser headlights and laser cinema, getting regulatory approval has been a major obstacle. In the US, matrix LED headlights haven’t yet been approved, causing automakers to release this technology only in Europe, so laser headlights might not appear in the U.S. for many years to come. For laser projection, the Laser Illuminated Projector Association (LIPA) was formed by more than 20 interested companies for the purpose of convincing the U.S. FDA and the European IEC that laser light projectors should be allowed. The LIPA has accomplished its task, and it now looks like lasers will be an approved light source for cinema projectors.
Using lasers as a light source will become another milestone in laser technology. While LEDs have opened up many new lighting applications that didn’t exist before, lasers are set to expand upon these applications even more.