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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

Bench Talk


Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics

Vehicle Lighting with LEDs Arden Henderson

Light Emitting Diode (LED) illumination is everywhere now. Though a slow start due to cost, LED lighting[0] is less costly now, ever so more versatile, and is scaling up rapidly in applications for homes, businesses, signage, and automotive applications, for starters.

In fact, today's focus on LEDs results in the welcome escape from Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) (otherwise known as the Glass Spirals of Doom) as manufacturers drop CFLs altogether to focus on LEDs.[1] Kudos to those manufacturers. The CFL, as you may remember, was recently the trendy "environmental-friendly" thing to do for reducing home and business electricity usage, therefore saving the planet, ironic since mercury-besotted CFLs have a handbook of about forty-thousand pages on what to do if a CFL unfortunately breaks in or near your home, and handy instructions on how to avoid the area being declared a Super Fund site. (First step: Get the kids and pets out of the house pronto.)

 Sidenote: Casual sample space shows the hospitality industry didn't get the memo on CFLs. The next time you stretching out in your favorite chain hotel, getting ready for a conference, take a peek under the lampshades and look for the spirals. Putting CFLs in human dwellings is sort of like installing a bunch of live snakes in cages here and there; no problem if they never get loose. Yet there is good news: LED light bulbs from your favorite hardware store have an estimated 24-year lifespan, use a fraction of energy, costs not that much more now (considering 24-years), and have no mercury surprise.

 But I digress. In this article, we'll take a quick overall view of LEDs in the automotive arena. Reassuring News: Nobody ever thought to use CFLs in a car. But, it wasn't long ago that auto headlamps were were based on acetylene and oil, basically traveling gaslamps. Okay, that was back in the 1880s.[2]

 Over the decades, many technologies[3] have been pressed into service to light up the road ahead and, as people started to think about auto safety, lights appeared for turn signals, braking, tail lamps, and running lamps, saving countless lives on the highways and byways.

(Everyone on your commute uses their turn signals, right? )

 As with most technologies, especially electronics, as costs goes down and quality goes up, realization and imagination ramp up, and then applications multiply. LEDs became commercially available in the 1960s but the history stretches to long before that.[4] Early LEDs have been found alongside dinosaur fossils. Anyone familiar with USA history knows that President Lincoln, as a wee young lad, studied at night by flickering LED light in his log cabin after a long day of arduous farming and trapping raccoons for his buddy Davy Crockett's hat business.

 At first, LEDs appeared in cars as instrumentation and interior ambient lighting. The choice of LED colors and packaging flexibility meant designing really cool spaceship-like consoles and interiors. Some LED-powered automobile interiors are so cool that many drivers are mesmerized into suspended animation, ending up simply parked in their driveways, bathed in LED goodness, forgetting to drive to work. This happens all the time, and it's a testament to a lighting source so flexible that the lighting becomes a part of the art and design of a car's interior. In fact, on the Mouser website, you'll find the excellent article The Psychology of Automotive LED Lighting by Carolyn Mathas.[5]

 Soon, LEDs moved into the turn signal and tail lamp brackets. White LED improvements meant LEDs qualified for headlamp applications. LEDs were also pressed into service for suave running lights, arranged in such a way that the LED lighting is part of the car's design. Special SAE standards rule LED automotive applications, with work on defining those standards ongoing since the 1980s.[6]

 Perusing the always excellent online Mouser catalog, we see that Mouser sells both development tools and kits for automotive LED lighting development, and a wide-range of LEDs, connectors, drivers, and so on, for creating your next automotive spaceship interior and cool outboard lights.[7][8] For example, Mouser stocks the Texas Instruments' TPS92691 Multi-Topology LED Driver for automotive and industrial applications.

[9] You can't have enough of those.

 Notably, Mouser is an authorized distributor for Lumileds, a heavyweight in the automotive LED arena.[10] Stats show good growth for LED makers supplying the automotive market. Lumiled's CEO Pierre-Yves Lesaicherre has pointed out automotive is over 50% of Lumiled's revenue [11] and is a major focus area.[12]

 The future is definitely bright for automotive LEDs. Had to say that.


















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Arden Henderson spent at least part of his life toolsmithing in dark, steam-powered workshops of software tool forges long gone, drenched in blood, sweat, and code under the glare of cathode ray tubes, striving for the perfect line of self-modifying software and the holy grail of all things codecraft: The perfectly rendered pixel. These days, when not working on his 1964 Flux Blend time machine (which he inadvertently wrecked before it was built after a particularly deep recursive loop), Mr. Henderson works in part-time castle elf and groundskeeper jobs, chatting with singularities spawned from code gone mad in vast labyrinths of vacuum tubes, patch cords, and electro-mechanical relays. Mr. Henderson earned a B.S.C.S. late in life at Texas A&M. Over the hundreds of years gone by before then and after, he has worked in various realms ranging from petrochemical wonderlands spread across the flat Gulf Coast saltgrass plains, as far as the eye can see, to silicon bastions deep in the heart of Central Texas.

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