A light source (filament or arc) is placed at or near the focus of a reflector, which may be parabolic or of non-parabolic complex shape. Fresnel and prism optics moulded into the headlamp lens then shift parts of the light laterally and vertically to provide the required light distribution pattern. The lens may use both refraction and TIR to achieve the desired results. Most sealed-beam headlamps have lens optics.
A reflector-optic headlamp on a Jeep Liberty. The clear front cover lens serves only a protective function.
Starting in the 1980s, headlamp reflectors began to evolve beyond the simple stamped steel parabola. The 1983 Austin Maestro the first vehicle equipped with Lucas-Carello’s homofocal reflectors, which comprised parabolic sections of different focal length to improve the efficiency of light collection and distribution. CAD technology allowed the development of reflector headlamps with nonparabolic, complex-shape reflectors. First commercialised by Valeo under their Cibié brand, these headlamps would revolutionise automobile design.
The 1987 U.S.-market Dodge Monaco/Eagle Premier twins and European Citroën XM were the first cars with complex-reflector headlamps with faceted optic lenses. General Motors‘ Guide Lamp division in America had experimented with clear-lens complex-reflector lamps in the early 1970s and achieved promising results, but the U.S.-market 1990 Honda Accord was first with clear-lens multi-reflector headlamps; these were developed by Stanley in Japan. The optics to distribute the light in the desired pattern are designed into the reflector itself, rather than into the lens. Depending on the development tools and techniques in use, the reflector may be engineered from the start as a bespoke shape, or it may start as a parabola standing in for the size and shape of the completed package. In the latter case, the entire surface area is modified so as to produce individual segments of specifically calculated, complex contours. The shape of each segment is designed such that their cumulative effect produces the required light distribution pattern.
Modern reflectors are commonly made of compression-moulded or injection molded plastic, though glass and metal optic reflectors also exist. The reflective surface is vapour deposited aluminum with a clear overcoating to prevent the extremely thin aluminum from oxidizing. Extremely tight tolerances must be maintained in the design and production of complex-reflector headlamps.
Dual-beam reflector headlamps
Night driving is difficult and dangerous due to the blinding glare of headlights from oncoming traffic. Headlamps that satisfactorily illuminate the road ahead without causing glare have long been sought. The first solutions involved resistance-type dimming circuits, which decreased the intensity of the headlamps. This yielded to tilting reflectors, and later to dual-filament bulbs with a high and a low beam.
In a two-filament headlamp, there can only be one filament exactly at the focal point of the reflector. There are two primary means of producing two different beams from a two-filament bulb in a single reflector.
One filament is located at the focal point of the reflector. The other filament is shifted axially and radially away from the focal point. In most 2-filament sealed beams and in 2-filament replaceable bulbs type 9004, 9007 and H13, the high beam filament is at the focal point and the low beam filament is off focus. For use in right-traffic countries, the low beam filament is positioned slightly upward, forward and leftward of the focal point, so that when it is energised, the light beam is widened and shifted slightly downward and rightward of the headlamp’s axis. Transverse-filament bulbs such as 9004 can only be used with the filaments horizontal, but axial-filament bulbs can be rotated or “clocked” by the headlamp designer so as to optimise the beam pattern or to effect the traffic-handedness of the low beam. The latter is accomplished by clocking the low-beam filament in an upward-forward-leftward position to produce a right-traffic low beam, or in an upward-forward-rightward position to produce a left-traffic low beam.
The opposite tactic has also been employed in certain 2-filament sealed beams. Placing the low beam filament at the focal point to maximise light collection by the reflector, and positioning the high beam filament slightly rearward-rightward-downward of the focal point. The relative directional shift between the two beams is the same with either technique—in a right-traffic country, the low beam is slightly downward-rightward and the high beam is slightly upward-leftward, relative to one another—but the lens optics must be matched to the filament placements selected.
The traditional European method of achieving low and high beam from a single bulb involves two filaments along the axis of the reflector. The high beam filament is on the focal point, while the low beam filament is approximately 1 cm forward of the focal point and 3 mm above the axis. Below the low beam filament is a cup-shaped shield (called a “Graves Shield“) spanning an arc of 165°. When the low beam filament is illuminated, this shield casts a shadow on the corresponding lower area of the reflector, blocking downward light rays that would otherwise strike the reflector and be cast above the horizon. The bulb is rotated (or “clocked”) within the headlamp to position the Graves Shield so as to allow light to strike a 15° wedge of the lower half of the reflector. This is used to create the upsweep or upstep characteristic of ECE low beam light distributions. The bulb’s rotative position within the reflector depends on the type of beam pattern to be produced and the traffic directionality of the market for which the headlamp is intended.
This system was first used with the tungsten incandescent Bilux/Duplo R2 bulb of 1954, and later with the halogen H4 bulb of 1971. In 1992, U.S. regulations were amended to permit the use of H4 bulbs redesignated HB2 and 9003, and with slightly different production tolerances stipulated. These are physically and electrically interchangeable with H4 bulbs. Similar optical techniques are used, but with different reflector and/or lens optics to create a US beam pattern rather than a European one.
Each system has its advantages and disadvantages. The American system historically permitted a greater overall amount of light within the low beam, since the entire reflector and lens area is used, but at the same time, the American system has traditionally offered much less control over upward light that causes glare, and for that reason has been largely rejected outside the US. In addition, the American system makes it difficult to create markedly different low and high beam light distributions. The high beam is usually a rough copy of the low beam, shifted slightly upward and leftward. The European system traditionally produced low beams containing less overall light, because only 60% of the reflector’s surface area is used to create the low beam. However, low beam focus and glare control are easier to achieve. In addition, the lower 40% of the reflector and lens are reserved for high beam formation, which facilitates the optimisation of both low and high beams.
Complex-reflector technology in combination with new bulb designs such as H13 is enabling the creation of European-type low and high beam patterns without the use of a Graves Shield, while the 1992 US approval of the H4 bulb has made traditionally European 60% / 40% optical area divisions for low and high beam common in the US. Therefore, the difference in active optical area and overall beam light content no longer necessarily exists between US and ECE beams. Dual-beam HID headlamps employing reflector technology have been made using adaptations of both techniques.
Projector (polyellipsoidal) lamps
Projector headlamps on an Acura RL
In this system a filament is located at one focus of an ellipsoidal reflector and has a condenser lens at the front of the lamp. A shade is located at the image plane, between the reflector and lens, and the projection of the top edge of this shade provides the low-beam cutoff. The shape of the shade edge, and its exact position in the optical system, determines the shape and sharpness of the cutoff. The shade may have a solenoid actuated pivot to provide both low and high beam — the shade is removed from the light path to create high beam, and placed in the light path to create low beam, and such optics are known as BiXenon or BiHalogen projectors, depending on the light source used. If there is no such arrangement, the cutoff shade is fixed in the light path, in which case separate high-beam lamps are required. The condenser lens may have slight fresnel rings or other surface treatments to reduce cutoff sharpness. Recent condenser lenses incorporate optical features specifically designed to direct some light upward towards the locations of retroreflective overhead road signs.
Hella introduced ellipsoidal optics for acetylene headlamps in 1911, but following the electrification of vehicle lighting, this optical technique wasn’t used for many decades. The first modern polyellipsoidal (projector) automotive lamp was the Super-Lite, an auxiliary headlamp produced in a joint venture between Chrysler Corporation and Sylvania and optionally installed in 1969 and 1970 full-size Dodge automobiles. It used an 85 watt transverse-filament tungsten-halogen bulb and was intended as a mid-beam, to extend the reach of the low beams during turnpike travel when low beams alone were inadequate but high beams would produce excessive glare.
Projector main headlamps first appeared in 1981 on the Audi Quartz, the Quattro-based concept car designed by Pininfarina for Geneva Auto Salon. Developed more or less simultaneously in Germany by Hella and Bosch and in France by Cibié, the projector low beam permitted accurate beam focus and a much smaller-diameter optical package, though a much deeper one, for any given beam output. The version of the 1986 BMW 7 Series sold outside North America was the first volume-production auto to use polyellipsoidal low beam headlamps.
Headlamps using projector optics cause much worse dazzle to oncoming traffic than those using reflectors for the same light output. Dazzle from the headlights of a distant oncoming vehicle is caused by the extreme contrast between the intense spot of light and the darkness of the background. Projector optics emit the light through a much smaller area than reflector optics do; therefore, for the same total light output, the light spot of a projector headlamp is much more intense and more dazzling than the larger, dimmer light spot of a reflector lamp.
It is sometimes argued that the more tightly controlled beam pattern of projector optics reduces dazzle. In fact the beam pattern is irrelevant, since unless the headlamps are misaligned, an oncoming vehicle is sufficiently far off the beam axis as to be completely outside the beam in both reflector and projector cases. The dazzle is caused by the off-axis emission arising from such factors as scattering from optical imperfections in the lamp surface, and is worse where the more concentrated output of projector optics causes that emission to be more intense.
Headlamp. (2010, January 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:49, January 7, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Headlamp&oldid=336224700