When computers fail, there's no substitute for physical testing and development.
BMW is eschewing the notion of using computers for every facet of car development with a secret new facility aimed at testing lighting technologies in real-world conditions. Capable of testing everything from the BMW XM super-SUV to the i7 sedan and Z4 Roadster, the Light Channel Next puts back a human element into the development of a technology that can either be a massive help or one of the biggest banes of road users' existence when you're blinded by oncoming traffic with ill-aimed LED headlights.
Light Channel Next gives BMW a good idea of how the headlights would work in different environments, even reproducing ambient conditions to simulate any time of the day. Different surfaces (including aged asphalt and footpaths) allow engineers to see how light reacts to different materials, colors, and grains, and specific care is taken to evaluate the light color at the edge where dark and light meet, which is often the area of the beam responsible for dazzling other road users.
At 433 feet long, the Light Channel Next is the "longest development tool" in the BMW Group's arsenal. It even includes a workshop where engineers can prepare vehicles for the tests.
BMW examines all sorts of things in the Light Channel Next tunnel. The adaptive headlights are one of the most important aspects, and so too are the turn signals. But the BMW Group is also interested in the aesthetic appeal of the lighting elements.
This includes the illuminated BMW kidney grille, the Union Jack effect seen in the taillights of Mini models, and even the puddle lamps that glow when the vehicle is unlocked or the doors are opened.
The light channel has been coated in light-absorbing black paint to prevent false reflections, and light traps in the walls mitigate this further. The Floor is the only reflective element but is curated to match real-world textures like roads and car park floors.
At the end of the tunnel is a 55-foot-wide adjustable wall that can be lowered if required, used to measure the color fringes of a low-beam headlight and adjust the headlight tilt.
Even though BMW drivers stereotypically don't use turn signals, the automaker must ensure they operate as safely as possible and are visible against all backgrounds, which is why they're benchmarked against a daylight wall that replicates mid-day sun.
BMW has admitted that computer simulation has its limits and that while these simulations provide a solid basis, there is no replacement for the direct evaluation of light in a real-world scenario.
"For the BMW Group, light is a topic that is constantly gaining importance. With the new Light Channel Next, we look forward to a future of bringing innovative ideas to the vehicle and the market which will make a lasting impression on customers and enhance road safety," said BMW's Christian Jebas.
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