BMW's plug-in hybrid i8 sports car is set to be one of the most exciting cars of 2014, but it'll also be one of the most technologically advanced.

As well as the use of a new 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine, its part-electric drivetrain and unique styling, it'll also be the world's first production car to use laser headlights.

Headlights are so much a part of automobiles that it's easy to forget they exist. But along with safety technology and in-car infotainment, they've come a huge distance in the past decade, far more so than they have over the previous century.

Automakers are only just scratching the surface of LED technology with adaptive beam patterns and intense white light, but BMW's lasers will take that a step further.

Part of it is aesthetic, allowing more intricate designs than ever before--and lasers units can be made incredibly small, allowing greater freedom with space under the hood.

Another part is efficiency, particularly important in car using an electric drivetrain. Energy use is very low meaning less power drawn from the battery for lighting and more for propulsion.

But the largest benefits by far are those relating to light output and beam pattern, says Motor Authority.

To clarify, laser headlights don't mean you'll be blinding other vehicles as they approach. In fact, it could be quite the opposite, since using lasers allows a beam pattern more precise than ever before for better adaptive light technology.

We've seen something to this effect with the 2011 Audi A2 electric car concept from that year's Frankfurt Auto Show, which was able to project a warning triangle onto the road behind the car using laser lights.

The on-road benefits are headlights that feature a very precise beam pattern and a huge light range--at 600 meters, double that of the best current headlights. It's a more intense light too, and the light is monochromatic--laser light is produced in only one wavelength, rather than the full color spectrum of regular lights.

The result is a highly efficient, highly effective and particularly distinctive headlight design--perfectly suited to an advanced vehicle like the i8.

2014 Audi R18 e-tron quattro Le Mans Prototype race car

2014 Audi R18 e-tron quattro Le Mans Prototype race car

And the Audi R18 e-tron quattro, for that matter--Audi's Le Mans-winning diesel hybrid race car. Audi was the first to use fully LED headlights at Le Mans for retina-searing night-time vision, and in 2014 the race team will be the first to use laser headlights too.

Just like BMW's use of laser technology on its road-going i8, the benefits at Le Mans are equally important--efficiency, vision and even aesthetics have all played a part in the German marque's success at the famous endurance event.


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