Light for the fast lane

OSRAM has changed radically over the past few years, selling its consumer lamp business under the name of Ledvance and concentrating entirely on professional applications.

AUTOMOBIL-ELEKTRONIK spoke with OSRAM’s CTO Dr. Stefan Kampmann about automotive lighting applications ranging from halogen, laser and matrix headlamps to tail lights and sensors for automated vehicles.

CTO Dr. Stefan Kampmann

The interview was conducted by Alfred Vollmer. Date of publishing 2018/10/11 on

AUTOMOBIL-ELEKTRONIK: Dr. Kampmann, what is taking up most of your time right now?

Dr. Stefan Kampmann: OSRAM is going through an incredibly rapid transformation. Most people when they hear the word OSRAM think of a light bulb – or perhaps a halogen headlight lamp for their car. At the start of this decade we were still achieving 80% of our sales with conventional lighting products. Today, on the other hand, LED light sources play a major role in more than two thirds of our turnover. We are behind high-tech research projects such as the one NASA is conducting right now to see how LED light can be used to improve the yield of salad greens and vegetables in spaceships so that astronauts have fresh food to eat. Many people are completely unaware of that side of OSRAM.

The transformation is also in full swing in the automotive sector. There have been far-reaching changes in light sources in the past five years. But it’s this rapid pace of change that makes life here so exciting. LEDs with their impressive functionality have become firmly established in cars. It all started with the first blue LEDs in the cockpit, which Volkswagen used intentionally at the time for branding purposes.

LEDs were initially used only in the cockpit but then conquered the entire passenger cell and very soon after that the exterior lights: tail lights, turn signals, daytime running lights and, as a premium element, front lighting. An important factor here is that it’s not just a question of functionality but also of image. Hence our saying: the LED is the new chrome. Back in our youth we could buy chrome hub caps or even order chrome trim as an option. Today, it’s lighting packages that are providing very wide differentiation. Daytime running lights are now an image thing, as are various tail light designs.

What new applications do you envisage for LEDs in and on cars?

Dr. Stefan Kampmann: There are several trends from which we will benefit. The number of sensors in cars is increasing, some of which are based on infrared light or lasers. We are in a strong position here. But of course there are also developments in the visible light sector which will be beneficial for us. The pace of technical development in front lighting is rapid, as the increasing resolution of matrix light shows. In only a short amount of time, the high beam range has quadrupled to 600 meters thanks to our laser light. And as I mentioned before, there are completely new design options for the tail lights.

The ambiance in a car is also gaining in importance, and interior lighting concepts play a major role here, particularly when you consider autonomous driving. Once you are no longer actually driving the car, you will have different expectations of the passenger cell.

They range from backlit leather to windows with integrated micro LEDs installed in such a way that they are transparent when unlit. When activated, they turn the window into a large display. There are lots of innovative ideas and potential applications for micro LEDs in the future.

The self-driving car will of course be more of a living room than a driver’s workplace. And light is a way of making the interior of a car a place where you feel comfortable. Even human centric lighting, or HCL for short, may find its way into cars. HCL can support the biorhythms of passengers so they can relax better on the journey or be more alert and focused, depending on what they need at the time. We are currently working on numerous projects in this field.

What can human centric lighting do in cars?

Dr. Stefan Kampmann: The human eye has special receptors for perceiving the changes in natural light over the course of a day, and these receptors pass signals to our body clock. We can adjust artificial light to influence our body clock in specific ways. This can help, for example, to overcome jet lag more quickly or avoid it altogether. We are currently in discussions with customers about many exciting applications in this area. We are seeing great interest in RGB LED concepts for indoor spaces to influence moods. This is also in keeping with the strong desire among users for customizable solutions. In the case of car sharing, for example, completely standardized vehicles could be used but the lighting could be personalized so that when a known Bayern Munich fan sits in the car he would automatically be greeted by red light, and a Dortmund fan by yellow light.

What trends are you seeing in optical sensors?

Dr. Stefan Kampmann: As far as autonomous driving is concerned, infrared light is extremely important for correct operation of the necessary sensors. That also applies inside the car for detecting the driver’s position. Our products have recently been incorporated in the Cadillac CT6 for its semi-autonomous driving system. With our infrared and LED components in the steering wheel, the on-board computer checks that drivers are keeping their eyes on the road ahead after activating hands-free driving. For exterior sensors the focus is currently on Lidar. Lidar is now the hype technology for autonomous driving.

We are expecting the first large volumes of Lidar sensors to hit the market by the middle of the next decade. However, fully automated robocars have very different requirements from classic vehicles in which Lidar is part of ADAS functionality. If the driver is no longer there as the fallback option then poor weather conditions such as snow or heavy rain present special challenges for the sensors. In such cases, redundant systems such as video, radar and Lidar are needed for reliable detection of the car’s surroundings.

What position and function does OSRAM have for Lidar on the market?

Dr. Stefan Kampmann: We are uniquely position for Lidar. We are leaders in the laser diodes for the Lidar systems and supply the majority of companies on the market actively researching Lidar. We need to discuss system solutions with our customers as experts to experts so in recent years we have recruited more and more application and system development engineers. An in-depth understanding of the systems enables us to define the specifications for our components at an early stage.

We are also involved in a number of startups, and probably have the best possible overview of the scene. At any rate, we get to know all the new players and developments very early on. We have made an investment in the Canadian startup Leddartech which has extensive expertise in signal analysis, and have also invested in the Munich based startup Blickfeld which is pursuing innovative ideas for beam guidance. And we also have a share in Tetravue in California which is developing Lidar not only for vehicles but also for logistics applications in indoor settings. That has also attracted our interest of course in view of the fact that around half of our turnover comes from outside the automotive sector.

"In the near future, the subject of light and lighting will receive a massive boost from electronics, and is one of the most exciting growth areas. With Continental we have therefore founded a joint venture for smart lighting solutions in the automotive sector."

CTO Dr. Stefan Kampmann

"Our special setup has made us the global number one for automotive lighting."

What does this split mean for your automotive business?

Dr. Stefan Kampmann: Our special setup has made us the global number one for automotive lighting. Our customers benefit from our strong position also in the fast-moving consumer sector. Product cycles there are very short and the speed of innovation is therefore very high. Gesture and facial recognition systems for smartphones are being developed in a yearly cycle. If such functionality is required in cars then we, as a certified supplier, are naturally a preferred partner for adapting such functionality for the automotive environment. That puts us in a unique position.

A good example of how quickly we can develop products is our laser light portfolio which is now being marketed and further developed in our OSRAM Continental joint venture. We were the first to extend the high beam range to 600 meters with a laser module – double the range of LEDs and quadruple the range of halogen. That was only three years ago. In the meantime, however, we have developed two further generations of laser light.

What in your view is the special benefit for the automotive industry?

Dr. Stefan Kampmann: We offer innovations in short cycles but obviously in high quality and with high reliability year after year. And we benefit in that developments from our other sectors can be transferred to the automotive industry. In addition to the consumer sector I mentioned earlier, there are other sectors where developments have been and will be transferred to the automotive industry.

For example, we have already been developing Lidar for a long time for the industrial sector. The technology can be used there to locate and guide persons and forklifts in warehouses with great precision. Similar applications are already helping workers in mail order companies to optimize their routes. There are also synergies even in the entertainment sector, in other words for stage lighting. Follow spots in theaters are still mostly operated by hand but with high-resolution Lidar technology it will be possible to control them electronically and therefore much more smoothly. In these sectors we are not achieving the volumes that we are seeing in the automotive sector but we are gaining lots of detailed knowledge of the applications. We benefit from transferring our know-how and technologies to many different areas of application.

Why was the OSRAM Continental joint venture established?

Dr. Stefan Kampmann: The transition from classic lighting solutions to semiconductor-based technologies and the increasing importance of software and electronics are having a profound impact on the automotive industry. The transition is also affecting lighting business within the sector. As in the case of general lighting, the market is moving toward semiconductor-based lighting solutions.

In the near future, the subject of light and lighting will receive a massive boost from electronics, and is one of the most exciting growth areas. With Continental we have therefore founded a joint venture for smart lighting solutions in the automotive sector. By combining our expertise, we can create even greater added value; but above all we are more agile because we can develop the appropriate intelligence at the same time as we are developing new lighting modules.

Will the value added chain extend one day to complete headlamps?

Dr. Stefan Kampmann: The housings, complete optical systems and headlamp design are not our fields of activity. OSRAM Continental will therefore not be supplying headlamps for OEMs. The lighting solutions offered by OSRAM Continental will consist of LEDs, the connectivity system, the heat removal concept, the primary optics and obviously the control electronics. The electronics of such a complete solution could, for example, access camera data from the internal bus and use it to control a matrix light. The headlamp manufacturers then put the various functional subsystems together to create a complete headlamp but no longer have to worry about the control system because that is taken care of by OSRAM Continental.

What will the headlamp of the future look like?

Dr. Stefan Kampmann: Well, will we even need headlamps that look like two googly eyes? Designers would prefer to have directional light that didn’t need large reflectors. The light could come from a slit, for example, emitted by laser diodes or VCSELs. But even with a high-intensity LED as a point light source and a small lens there would be a large amount of light being emitted from a slit only two centimeters wide. In view of the vibrations encountered where the light source is installed, however, implementing this solution would not be exactly easy.

LEDs, lasers and high-efficiency connectivity are opening up a wide range of new design options, and there are no regulations that state that headlamps have to take up about five liters of volume on the left and right. The trend is away from headlamps and more toward front lighting and matrix light.

What has become of the µAFS research project?

Dr. Stefan Kampmann: Our joint research project with Fraunhofer, Infineon, Hella and Daimler has delivered the basis for the development of commercial products. Under the product name of Eviyos we will develop the world’s first high-resolution LED chip to market maturity and integrate it in initial customer projects. In a next generation we will add further functionality to meet the specific requirements resulting from the existing headlamp configurations. The subject is gaining momentum, and the next generation will bring even more light and even more pixels. A high-resolution matrix light system will probably be on the roads around 2022.

What, in your opinion, are the prospects for matrix light?

Dr. Stefan Kampmann: I think matrix light will penetrate all vehicle segments – at least as an option. Just like cornering light, matrix light offers functionality that you wouldn’t want to do without, once you have tried it and come to appreciate it. But it does depend on which market you’re looking at. 80% of all the new vehicles sold worldwide are still equipped with halogen light…

What ideas are floating around right now for communicating with pedestrians – with a front projector for example?

Dr. Stefan Kampmann: Clearly, high-resolution headlamps are capable of being used as projectors. Time will tell as to which applications are considered by drivers to be useful and which are feasible. Projecting lines in front of the vehicle to show how wide the vehicle is would be useful when driving in narrow lanes past roadworks. But I’m not so sure that warnings projected onto the road would be any better than audible or visual signals inside the cars. There are lots of discussions about this right now, and that includes in the legislative bodies, and we are looking into a large number of options.