Select Page is kicking off 2015 by shining a light on one of the most common parts: vehicle headlamps. Your vehicles headlamps provide a wide range of functions, from practical use at night, to distinguishing stylistic features. There are many people that believe vehicles have a “face”, and that the headlamps are the eyes. So join us as we take a look back, and forward, into the eyes of a vehicles soul.

Vehicle Headlamp History

The first patent for what would become the modern light bulb was filed in 1879 by Thomas Edison. It would take over 30 years for vehicles to develop a modern electrical system capable of supporting an incandescent lamp. So how did early drivers drive after the sun had gone down?

Early vehicle headlamps used mainly acetylene gas and created a flame fed light that was reflected onto the surface of the road. These lamps weren’t the most reliable, and were often prone to being extinguished in bad weather or rough driving conditions. There was also the added danger that came with using gasses and flames for light, something modern light sources don’t suffer from. At this time, electric headlamps were available, but not cost effective. Electric filaments (the part that heats up producing light) didn’t have the same quality as modern lights, and would often burn out at great expense. There was also difficulty in powering these electric headlamps, since dynamos were being used at the time. Acetylene lamps quickly caught on in homes that weren’t readily accessible by electricity, and were used into the 1950’s. Today, acetylene lamps are still used in some mining applications or cave explorations, although the dangers associated with using them remains present.

In 1912, Cadillac began integrating some of its electronic components, creating the first true vehicle electronic systems. With this new system in place, modern headlamps could begin to take shape.

Early Vehicle Headlamps

Now that electrical systems were in place, the modern vehicle headlamp was quickly adopted into production. In 1917, Cadillac featured the first “dip low” vehicle headlamp, which could be operated from the drivers seat. This was the first example of switching between high beams and low beams. 1917 also saw the use of optical headlamp lenses, which could intensify the beam or focus it. The leading company of headlamp lenses, Corning, is the same company you may know better for producing Gorilla Glass, the glass used on the majority of modern smartphones.

Vehicle Headlights

Today, when we think of vehicle headlamps, we think of a piercing white light cutting through the dark. When headlights first made their debut, and for years to come, the light was quite often a vibrant yellow. At first glance, yellow may seem like an odd choice, but there is some science behind the yellow headlamp. The color is known as “selective yellow” and is used to block out visible wavelengths (blue to violet) that the human eye has difficulty in seeing. This reduces glare, and allows for drivers to see in greater detail what’s on the road. Selective yellow headlamps were mandatory for use for a number of years, with France requiring selective yellow headlamps as recent as 1993. Officially, Monaco still requires yellow headlamps on all it’s vehicle registrations. The use of selective yellow faded as vehicle headlamps grew brighter and more capable.

The basic concept behind a vehicle headlamp is simple, and hasn’t changed much from “illuminate the road”. For some time, the technology changed very little. The shift from incandescent to halogen in 1962 was a major update, as headlamps were now brighter than ever before. Regulations were put in place that limited the size and illumination of headlamps. Until 1983, headlamps could only be either round or rectangular. Some companies got around the requirements in headlamp height or shapes by producing pop up headlamps. After 1983, and with the introduction of high intensity discharge bulbs in 1990, headlamps were free to become modern, iconic, and functional.

Modern Vehicle Headlamps vehicle headlights
The 2015 BMW i8 will feature the worlds first laser headlights. That is a statement that takes a few moments to take in. In 100 years, vehicle headlamps have evolved from gas-powered flames on 20 horsepower pieces of metal, to lasers strapped to carbon fiber electric driven 231 horsepower machines with more computing power than that of the entire Apollo 11 mission. While the majority of modern consumer vehicle headlamps aren’t lasers, this does signify the next big trend in the industry. Laser headlamps are more precise than LED or xenon, are more efficient (for use on electric vehicles) and offer a brighter light and a longer distance. Before you let your mind wander too far, these aren’t the firing kind of lasers, and with the precision of lasers you won’t be blinding other drivers on the road.

One of the most impressive features on modern vehicle headlamps is the concept of headlamps that turn with you when you corner. It’s worth noting here because despite it being something we view as a modern super luxury, the 1935 Citroën DS featured this technology. It wasn’t widely adopted at the time due to cost and reliability.

Now, vehicle headlamps are free to be made into any shape, design, or placement so long as they conform to rules on illumination. Ironically, two of the most iconic and recognizable headlamps, found on Porsche or Jeep vehicles, remain true to simple round headlamp from years before. Headlamps have gone beyond just iconic design. The Nissan Leaf is a fully electric vehicle. The Leaf is incredibly quiet, so quiet in fact that when driving, the air rushing over the side mirrors was noticeably loud. The headlamps were then sculpted in such a way as to move air over the mirrors, making the ride quieter.

Shining A Light

We’ve certainly come a long way in the past 100 years, and we now border on the edge of science fiction when it comes to vehicle technology. What will the next 100 years hold in store for vehicle headlamps? Only time will tell. In the meantime, has the (non-laser) headlamps you need to shine a light in the dark. As always, we offer excellent value and up to 70% off vs. our competitors. Shop today!

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