At times, legislated lighting feels like the bane of automakers’ and enthusiasts’ existences. From illuminated amber marker lights sticking out from bodywork like sore thumbs to fog lights crowding lower grilles, lighting is a huge part of the battle for sleek styling. However, Ford might have a solution: CarBuzz reports that the automaker has applied for a patent on tech that should make secondary lighting virtually invisible.
To do this, Ford proposes a multi-layer lens system that incorporates a variable opacity layer. Picture something a bit like Mercedes’ Magic Sky Control which can darken a sunroof at the touch of a button and you’re pretty much there. The outer lens will be made of acrylic and bonded to a larger part, the variable layer will likely be an epoxy laminate, and then an LED array is hooked up to it all. However, where the variable layer differs from traditional electrochromic glass is that Ford claims it can match the paint color of the vehicle when no current is applied. In theory, the lights could look black or white or orange or fuschia when off, a huge departure from the sort of lamp housings we’re used to.
While several automakers like BMW have attempted to hide lights in grilles, there’s a huge difference between the somewhat unsuccessful attempt to hide the new 7-Series’ headlamps in its grille trim and the idea of hiding auxiliary lamps under paintwork-matched lenses. Fords with this technology should still have clearly visible headlamps that aren’t trying to hide from anything, but everything should just look a little bit cleaner with secondary functions hidden away.
These new lights should have more tricks than just disappearing. In the patent filing, Ford has included a very nifty operation tree which includes some functions you don’t see on your average new car. For a start, there’s a specific aqua lighting mode when a vehicle with this lighting system is driving autonomously. While this sounds a bit dumb, if a car functioning on Level 3 or higher autonomy is involved in a collision that’s caught on camera, a clear autonomous mode lighting pattern could play a role in assigning fault.
[Editor’s Note: I just want to mention that the idea for some sort of autonomy-mode lamp is something I came up with years ago and even put in my book, so there. Also, why are they trying to hide their side marker lamps? Wear them with pride!
Anyway, yeah, you’re welcome, Ford. – JT]
In addition, the proposed lighting system should illuminate to make passing cars aware of a vehicle’s presence even if said vehicle is parked and unoccupied. Think of this as a smart version of the parking lamps often seen on European cars.
Oh, and for the sake of theater, the proposed lighting system will have a welcome mode and a farewell mode for when the driver walks toward or away from the vehicle. Given that a conceptually-similar function is available on the Lincoln Aviator, this one isn’t exactly surprising to see, although it is a neat way of adding something special to an otherwise humdrum vehicle. Imagine enduring the discomfort of air travel, walking to your rental car bleary-eyed, and witnessing a little light show. That ought to perk the corners of your mouth up.
Of course, there’s a chance that this lighting tech might not make it to a production car. After all, there’s a whole lot of lighting legislation to take into consideration. Reflectors must still be visible, lighting must have a certain surface area, there are a whole lot of roadblocks to overcome. However, it would be brilliant if Ford found a way to make this work in production cars, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
(Photo credits: Ford, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
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Genesis: You’re trying to hide them? Fuck that noise.
Seems like a scam from ‘Big Plastic Molding Corporation’ to make a small parking lot accident cause 5-figure damage levels.
“Imagine enduring the discomfort of air travel, walking to your rental car bleary-eyed, and witnessing a little light show. That ought to perk the corners of your mouth up.”
About as cheerful as the wagging tail of a mechanical dog :/
Feels like a cop-out. Don’t hide them, just design the car so they look good. You already do that with head and tail lights, no reason to have a fit and make the shittiest possible tacked-on side markers just because you find them personally offensive or something.
As the product owner of a 2011 Mustang, my favorite part of this is that they used an S197 chassis Mustang in their patent illustrations.
“Think of this as a smart version of the parking lamps often seen on European cars.”
Parking lamps? Is that what automakers call the battery depleting system they install in cars out of pure sadism and hatred for people who actually use their indicators?
Also, you mention European cars, but really I only ever saw that in VAG cars. What other European cars have this feature?
Mercedes 126s certainly had the parking lights. The headlights dial had two more settings which illuminated either the driver’s or passenger’s side markers. Almost positive the 123s did as well. The forum lore some 20 years ago was that they were for parking on narrow roads-that the lights gave others an indication of how far into the road you protruded
Having lived in both Europe and the United States for many years, I really don’t see the benefit of side running lamps and retroreflective markers. Many of us see the vehicles long before we are “alerted” to their proximity by the illuminated side running lamps and retroreflective markers. They are useless for the passenger vehicles. If the drivers need to see the side running lamps and retroreflective markers to establish their whereabouts in relations to other vehicles, they ought not to be driving at all.
ECE did not permit them until the “World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations” (sic) strong-armed the ECE working party into accepting them in 1992 as an optional feature. The strict stipulations follow: if the retroreflective markers are not part of the taillamps, they must be in specific shade of orange in colour. The manufacturers can only have one of either: side running lamps OR retroreflective markers but not both. ECE working party got burnt badly when the United States refused to reciprocate a several regulations that would have benefited the motoring public and reduced the engineering and manufacturing cost.
Several of ECE regulations that have obvious benefits, yet the United States refused to update its FMVSS 108 (the one of the shittiest regulations ever): side turn signal repeaters, amber-coloured turn signal indicators in the taillamps, headlamps with superior and tighter light distribution, specific distance between headlamps and turn signals (why do some of American vehicles, especially Ford, have the turn signal indicators so fucking close to each other?), external rear view mirrors that fold when impacted (I am so fucking sick of getting my thighs stabbed by the fixed mirrors with pointy housing), and to name a few. Yet, United States refused to “harmonise” its FMVSS with ECE WP29 and make everyone happy. Australia and Japan, two of the strictest and most restrictive safety regulations, have already updated their regulations to harmonise with ECE WP29, affording the respective citizens with widest range of choice.
When one organization puts forward a blatantly stupid proposal, I’m sort of glad we aren’t globally harmonized.
One but not both types of safety marker? Side running lamps OR retroreflective markers but not both? WTF?
On the other hand, every jurisdiction has their own WTF rules, so we just end up with a hundred sets of WTF rules instead of just one set. So no, I’m not actually glad we’re not harmonized. A lot of efficiencies would be gained if we could agree on standards.
Having the reflectors disappear when the car is parked and then needing sensors to illuminate the car when other vehicles pass is the stupidest thing.
The failure mode is obvious:
Your battery dies and now your car is stuck in the middle of the road and all the reflectors return to body color to look cool while you get run over by a tractor trailer.
I hate to be a cynic but why make something unnecessarily expensive? Just make them better looking. Remember the side markers on the first generation Firebird? Hire an artist.
Another expensive solution in search of a problem.
Fantastic, another $4,000 line item on the quote after a minor fender bender
Will it also have a special “Here I am! Reposess Me!” signal mode to go along with Ford’s other recent patent filing?
Blah blah blah. Hey Ford says it can match Red, orange, green, whatever body color? Yeah and Ford hives us white, black grey. Frankly recessing the lights by as little as 1/4 of an inch, maybe less behind a grill with piano string wire like grills painted whatever color you want could accomplish this without the patented protected $1,200 option.