Car lighting makeover impacts feel of safety and style

Aug 16, 2010

Gone are the days of basic, glaring lights inside cars to help us find our seatbelts or scramble for a map. Taking cues from research in buildings and offices, today's car designers have started to incorporate gentle ambient interior lighting, potentially enhancing night driving safety as well is increasing the feel good factor about vehicle interiors, according to research appearing today in the journal Lighting Research and Technology published by SAGE.

Engineers based at BMW in Munich, Germany, led by Luca Caberletti, together with Christoph Schierz from the Lighting Engineering Group at Ilmenau University of Technology, also in Germany, decided to test different lighting set ups on drivers. The test took place in a driving simulation environment where 31 people 'drove' a real stationary vehicle on a virtual highway with the driving environment projected onto three screens around the front and sides of the car. The light levels on the simulated street were between 0.1 cd/m² and 1.5 cd/m²." The researchers tested twelve different lighting scenarios, with varying light colour, luminance and position.

In the last decade the number of light sources in car interiors has drastically increased, up to a current maximum of about 25 light emitting diodes (LEDs), although this is likely to rise further. Ambient lighting has become a staple of cars in the mid to high market ranges, and comes in a number of colours. Previous studies have shown that the uncomfortable and distracting glare from interior lights, that can present issues, is eliminated when luminance is kept under 0.1 cd/m² Other studies show that drivers are less distracted when they are in control of ambient lighting levels in the car.

In this study drivers were questioned on space perception, perceived interior quality and attractiveness, perceived safety, functionality and alertness. The drivers' emotional states were also measured before and after the simulations, using a questionnaire.

The researchers found that the driver's whole perception of the car interior is improved through the use of ambient lighting while driving. It intensifies space perception, enhances the perceived quality of materials and design, helps them find controls and with their orientation in the car, and makes them feel safer.

However, less is more when it comes to ambient lighting: a sprinkling of ambient lights can be just as effective as larger numbers in giving an impression of space and quality. In fact increasing the brightness does nothing to enhance impressions of the interior or help the driver, but rather leads to driver complaints of distraction from discomfort or glare. Drivers perceive blue lighting as brighter than orange or red, and colour does seem to influence emotional responses. The researchers suggest colour is important for "brand identity and design compliance". Beyond this, the test did not come up with conclusive results for the effects of ambient lighting on the driver's emotional state.

Importantly, ambient lighting did not influence the driver's performance (although this was restricted to staying within a lane in this test). The authors suggest that further studies should look at more interior lighting colours, as well as a range of different car interior materials (because the effect of light on shiny leather is very different from, say, matt fabric). They also want to further investigate the extent to which ambient lighting helps with secondary driving tasks, such as finding controls or using a SatNav device.

Another future direction is interior lighting that responds dynamically to inputs from the car, the environment and the passengers. "The advantages and problems arising from such systems, as well as their acceptance by the drivers, have still to be tested and verified," says Caberletti. "Nevertheless, they offer a new, interesting, emotional and much more coloured way of understanding and developing vehicle interior lighting."

Explore further: Off-world manufacturing is a go with space printer

More information: "Influence of ambient lighting in a vehicle interior on the driver's perceptions" , L Caberletti Ing., K Elfmann Dipl-Ing, M Kummel Dr-Ing and C Schierz Prof Dr. Sc Nat , August 16th, in the Journal Lighting Research and Technology.

Provided by SAGE Publications UK

4 /5 (3 votes)

Related Stories

New LED lighting concept unveiled

Dec 15, 2005

A lighting concept unveiled Wednesday at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., uses modular LED panels to allow instant room lighting changes.

First global lighting study is released

Jun 29, 2006

The first global survey of lighting uses and costs suggests the world's electric bill would greatly decrease with a switch to efficient lighting systems.

Stop traffic crashes: Switch on the lights

Jan 21, 2009

Street lighting provides a simple, low cost means of stemming the global epidemic of road traffic death and injury. Low income countries should consider installing more lights, and high income countries should think carefully ...

High-brightness breakthrough

Jun 28, 2005

As a result of cooperation between Philips Lighting, Philips Research and Novaled have announced a new record for the efficiency of high-brightness white OLEDs, a new solid state lighting technology. OLEDs are expected to ...

Recommended for you

Off-world manufacturing is a go with space printer

Dec 20, 2014

On Friday, the BBC reported on a NASA email exchange with a space station which involved astronauts on the International Space Station using their 3-D printer to make a wrench from instructions sent up in ...

First drone in Nevada test program crashes in demo

Dec 19, 2014

A drone testing program in Nevada is off to a bumpy start after the first unmanned aircraft authorized to fly without Federal Aviation Administration supervision crashed during a ceremony in Boulder City.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.