Ask the Experts: Optics & Light Technology in Cars, More

Optics is the science of light properties and behavior. Put simply, it’s the study of how light interacts with different materials and how color appears to the human eye. The top lighting experts at JVIS have spent their careers developing new optics applications for the automotive industry and beyond.

Find out the fascinating ways they’re applying light in custom components.

The following is a Q&A with JVIS’ Senior Technical Lighting Engineer, Rich Arundale, and the Technical Director of Lighting, Ingo Schneider:

Can you give a brief overview of optics as it relates to the products JVIS creates?

Arundale: A number of the optics projects or lighting products we work with are what OEMs are looking for. They’ll have a specific set of requirements they’re trying to fulfill, and they’re looking for us to execute something that meets the criteria they have for illuminating a surface or adding additional convenience lighting – whether it’s lighting a footwell or lighting a map area. We design the product around those requirements.

We also like to give clients ideas about what else can be done [with light]. JVIS is a company that looks at not just automotive executions from all different markets but also what is going on with lighting in virtually every industry, from appliances to dispensing machines or even computers. We think of what we can do with light that would excite the customer and show them something they’re not used to seeing.

What do you find most fascinating about the science behind optics?

Arundale: The thing I find most interesting is following the old adage, “The person that says it can’t be done is proven wrong by the person doing it.” Even if I want to say, “This isn’t going to work,” I go ahead and build a mockup or try to play with it and see what does happen. Quite often we’re surprised. Some executions won’t give us the expected result every time; there is some art to it, and we’re going to get some pleasantly surprising, unexpected results when we play around with light. There is a level of unpredictability to light, and you can’t control 100 percent of light in a system. Sometimes stray light gives you some interesting outputs or illuminates something in a way that makes you say, “Hey, that’s actually pretty neat!”

How does color mixing with light differ from color mixing with pigment?

Arundale: We’ve been working with pigment since plastic’s been around. [Pigment] has been used in lighting lenses for almost 30 years. Working with colors, traditionally, you would be working with a bulb source and different types of pigmentation, and [the resulting product] would then have to go through all kinds of weatherability testing and different certifications. And you have to maintain specific colors for Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Additionally, certain brands need exact colors for brand imaging, such as “Ford blue.”

When you work with LEDs, however, you can adjust the binning for a different effect. You can do color mixing and quickly make any color in the rainbow by signaling the LED to increase a level of red, green or blue. You just send more energy to any of those three with a built-in processor. One of the biggest challenges with RGB chips is making sure they all put out the exact same color. The electronics group at JVIS has been working hard and has come up with a color-balancing system to make custom lights the exact same color.

What is the most exciting thing JVIS is doing with optics right now?

Schneider: Customers are now asking for more control of what light can do, where it can go and different color combinations. For example, they’re having us add it to the headliner to make a star constellation; they’re adding LEDs that can move around based on music. Different applications like that really add a lot of entertainment value or “wow” factor for the OEMs. We are able to control that light through our solid-state device department, where they electronically control each LED. Whatever the customer desires, we’re able to do that.

It’s not just a small LED behind a little window anymore! It’s lighting up entire instrument panels and changing colors, giving you ambient lights or a glow in different locations. We also use optical plates to give an even distribution over an even larger coverage area.

Arundale: We work with LED-lit fiber optics to put light into fabric – it’s woven in or put into a seam between two fabric panels. We made a product last year called the “Wow Seat,” which showcases that. It’s quite interesting! We’re also experimenting with leather.

What types of lighting does JVIS’ light-diffusing technology help you to create?

Arundale: Diffusing is just how you’re taking a light – usually an LED which is a point source of light – and applying optics, reflective systems, lensing systems and materials to make that point source look like it fills an entire area with uniform intensity. We work with optical executions of both the optic itself – a specific way of painting, graining or cutting into the tool – and of the materials to diffuse the light, to soften and spread light and create a plane or bar instead of a single point.

Outside of automotive we have Pixalux technology, which has a lot of different potential uses. Currently it’s mostly in advertising and shelving for stores, or in bars for accent lighting. That product uses diffusing technology quite well through a diffusing lens. That is a non-automotive application that is working out very well, and there is a great deal of excitement about that technology.

What trends do you predict for lighting in 2018?

Schneider: As a company, we are on top of some trends: We have different technologies that we’re fusing together. For instance, we have translucent chrome. It has a chrome finish when unlit, but it’s translucent when lit. We have hologram film images for interiors and exteriors. We have different painting and decorating techniques that we can apply to trim panels and cloth. We put an LED behind it, and during the day it has one appearance, and in the evening when it lights up, it has a totally different appearance for the customer. We use electronics, molding and decorating to create new ideas for lighting.

Many lighting engineers across several industries are starting to fuse certain technologies together to create different appearances and conditions.

About the Experts

Rich Arundale: Arundale has worked in lighting for about 25 years in various positions – from quality control to engineering to program management. He has managed a number of the program teams that developed and/or launched many of the lighting systems that have been on the road for the last 20 years.

Ingo Schneider: Schneider has worked in lighting since 1983, when he started his career at Chrysler as a lighting engineer. He’s witnessed and taken part in many changes in lighting technology. “It started with round and square halogen headlights that we all used to buy at Kmart, and now we have LED projectors beaming down the road!”

Learn more about JVIS and our lighting products here.