Volkswagen Wants to Communicate Safety Messages Using Car Lights

Future cars could project messages for drivers through interactive headlights and taillights, VW believes.

Volkswagen believes headlights and taillights can do more than illuminate the road. The German automaker is experimenting with “interactive” lights that can show different messages. Like other automakers working on the concept, VW expects these lights to help improve safety and offer opportunities for personalization.

The system relies on matrix LED lighting, similar to the technology already offered on some headlights in Europe and that may soon be legalized in the United States. This setup uses many small individual lighting elements, which can be turned on or off using software to create different light patterns. Volkswagen claims its system uses 30,000 individual light points. In current production cars, these systems are used to redirect high-beam light away from oncoming cars to avoid blinding drivers, but VW has some other possible uses in mind.

This allows a car to project distinct shapes and messages using its lights. On the redesigned Touareg, lights can be project markings in front of the vehicle to indicate the width of the SUV and a following trailer. They can show how close the vehicle is getting to the extremes of a lane, and can follow the radii of curves to help guide the driver.

Taillights can also be used to project markings onto the road. VW thinks they might be useful for showing the path of a car as it’s pulling in or out of a parking space, which could avoid confusing other drivers. The LEDs could also be reconfigured to show different symbols, indicating everything from hazards to the state of charge of an electric car. It’s unclear whether these features will be added to production cars—or when that might occur.