it or not, in 1886 the world’s first cars were equipped with candle lights.
More than a century later, modern cars of today are equipped with digital
lights. Mercedes-Benz takes you through this journey of technological changes
in the automotive lighting industry. Here are the numerous lighting innovations
explained in detail.
1886: Like their technical predecessor, the
horse-drawn carriage, the world's first cars were equipped with candlelit
lanterns offering just a few metres of visibility. Driving in the dark was
therefore something of an adventure. Petroleum and carbide lamps shone a little
more light into the dark, as did the introduction in around 1910 of the first
(battery-powered) electric headlamps, which became increasingly prevalent in
the 1920s. The advantage is that electric headlamps meant an end to tiresome
lighting and extinguishing. Later versions could even switch between main and
dipped beam. Initially the headlamps were dipped by means of a mechanically
actuated, movable ring over the bulb.
1934: Mercedes then unveiled Bilux lights in the
500 K (W29) model. These combined main beam and dipped beam in a reflector. To
this end, the dual-filament bulb produced two beams of different strength and
The Mercedes SL (R107) marked the introduction of the H4 bulb in cars. It was
the first bulb to feature halogen technology for main and dipped beam, and
immediately doubled visibility.
1995: Xenon headlamps with dynamic range control
in the E-Class (W210). Xenon gas-discharge lamps were a brilliant idea in every
sense of the word. They tripled light emission compared with halogen lamps,
lasted longer, consumed less power and also produced a light colour more
similar to that of daylight, which made driving at night less strenuous. There
was less dazzling of other road users thanks to dynamic range control.
1999: The Mercedes CL (C215) featured bi-xenon
technology in which the main beam was also based on gas discharge for the first
2003: The bi-xenon headlamps were augmented by the active light
function in the E-Class (W211).
2006: Mercedes unveiled its Intelligent Light
System (ILS) in the E-Class (W211): an adaptive headlamp system with variable
light distribution, which adapted to the weather, light and driving conditions
2010: First dynamic LED headlamps in the CLS
(C219). Like bi-xenon headlamps, the new light system featured the
tried-and-trusted Intelligent Light System, which had five light functions
configured for typical driving or weather conditions: country mode, motorway
mode, extended fog lamps, active light function and cornering lights. The
lighting specialists at Mercedes-Benz were also able for the first time to
combine this LED technology with the already innovative Adaptive High beam
Assist, which resulted in an all-new level of safety at night.
2013: Around 100 years after the introduction of electric vehicle
lighting, the current S-Class (W 222) became the world's first vehicle to do
without bulbs entirely. It was the first car to feature solely LED lights as
standard. The multi-level functionality of the rear lamps represented another
world premiere: out of consideration for any road users behind, the brake
lights and turn indicators were dimmed at night or while waiting at traffic
2014: The CLS (218 model series) marked the debut
of Multibeam-LED headlamps. When it comes to the number of pixels, the same is
true of LED headlamps as of display screens: the higher the number of pixels,
the higher the resolution and the more detailed the image. A high number of
pixels also allows greater dynamism in the display. In terms of perception,
this leads to a clear increase in precision and brilliance. There were now 24
high-performance LEDs per headlamp. Four control units per vehicle calculated
the ideal light pattern 100 times per second and activated each LED
individually, dimmable in 255 stages. Despite tremendous capacity, the
precision main-beam module here just about fit into the palm of one’s hand.
Each of the 24 high-performance LED chips was no bigger than the cross-section
of a grain of rice.
2015: The Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion
research vehicle, which gave an insight into autonomous driving in the future,
communicated visually with its surroundings. The aim was to ensure that, when
the vehicle was driving itself, other road users were aware of its intentions.
Displays at the front and rear featured a communication matrix comprising
three-dimensional, bar-shaped LED modules, together with two outer blocks made
up of large LED bars. A slim LED light strip above the rear display was used
for visualising driving-specific functions such as braking, indicating and the
current driving mode of the F 015. When the vehicle was started, the LED blocks
in the two communication displays lit up in sequence. The F 015 used the colour
of its lights to indicate what driving mode it was currently in – blue stood
for autonomous and white for manual.
2016: World premiere of Mulitbeam LED headlamps
with 84 pixels in the E-Class (W 213). Each headlamp now had 84 individually
controllable high-performance LEDs rather than 24, meaning that they were
exceptionally bright and precise, illuminating the road ahead with a previously
unsurpassed, precision-controlled distribution of light – without dazzling
other road users.
2016: In the same year, Mercedes-Benz demonstrated
what the future of vehicle headlamps looked like thanks to Digital Light.
Maximum-performance dazzle-free continuous main beam in HD quality allowed
pioneering driver assistance and communication with other road users. In each
headlamp there were chips with over a million micro-reflectors, i.e. a total of
over two million per vehicle. Guiding lines projected onto the road surface,
extended pedestrian marking and extended distance marking made it easier to
navigate through difficult driving situations such as at road works, when
pedestrians approached, or if the distance to the vehicle in front was too
2018: Multibeam LED with 18 individually controllable
high-performance LEDs was now also available in the A-Class and, therefore, in
all Mercedes-Benz vehicle segments.
2018: 360-degree light signalling was unveiled on
a "cooperative S-Class". As an automated vehicle, it used suitable
light signals to inform people of what it intended to do. Continuous light
showed that the vehicle was in automated driving mode, whether moving or
stationary.Slow flashing meant the vehicle was braking. Fast flashing indicated
that the vehicle would shortly be moving off.
2019: The ESF 2019 safety research vehicle also communicates with
other road users using light signals, as responsible motorists also constantly
give signals like "I have seen you", "I will stay here",
"Attention, tailback" or "I'll give way to you" to other
road users. The ESF 2019 uses clearly visible light signals in turquoise to do
the same, thereby instilling confidence through information. Communication
takes place via the large front panel, LEDs in the sensor unit on the roof, in
the exterior mirror indicator repeaters and the third brake lamp, and via
projections onto the rear window. Warnings and messages are sent using
animations and symbols.
2019: Unveiled at the Frankfurt International
Motor Show, the Vision EQS is another highlight of innovative light development
from Mercedes-Benz. The digital front grille allows a new level of precise
signalling. With this total of 940 individual LEDs in a three-dimensional
space, the light signals with which the vehicle communicates with its
surroundings create a fascinating impression of depth. Further highlights of
the Vision EQS include the new Digital Light headlamps, each with two
holographic lens modules. This creates an almost unlimited number of display
possibilities, providing an outlook on the future use of lighting by
Mercedes-Benz. It also shows that the light of the future will also be
important for man-machine communication and therefore also a key element in the
fields of safety, aesthetics and design.
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