The automotive sector is one of the most prominent applications of optical components. As an automotive optics manufacturer, Apollo Optical Systems produces a variety of optical components for automotive use, including fiber optics for safety systems and optical components for semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles.[1]

Optics are also important in industries that support the automotive sector, including producing lighting, metal, glass, paint, plastics, and fabrics. Discover the many automotive applications of optical components.

Head-Up Displays

A head-up display is a display that allows the driver to see data displayed on the windshield directly in their sightline. This display eliminates the need to take their eyes off the road to check fuel levels, speed, RPMs, and more.

Normally, the projected image on the display is blurred because of the double reflection from two thick windshield surfaces, leading to what’s known as a “ghost image.” There are several possible solutions to this, but one of the most promising is to combine the outside view with the data using a beam splitter with optical thin film technology. This solution offers benefits like multicolor reflectance while decreasing the influence of double images.

Automotive head-up display systems include four parts:

  • LED array
  • thin film transistor projection display
  • lens system
  • beam splitter

The light source is an LED and the aspheric lens positioned in front of the LCD panel magnifies the image to its desired display size.[2]

In addition, the system has an ambient light sensor that controls the display’s brightness with feedback from the sensor. This reduces power consumption according to the brightness of the surroundings, improving the visual comfort of the driver.

Autonomous Vehicles

With the continual need for increased road safety, more vehicle manufacturers are focusing on semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles. Optical systems are a key component of the successful deployment of these vehicles. This will rely on sensors to map the local environment and steer the vehicle through complex and dynamic situations like traffic signals, pedestrians, tractor trailers, passenger vehicles, weather conditions, and animals on the road.

Essentially, an autonomous car is designed to drive similarly to humans but with fewer errors. This is made possible through a combination of optical technologies that use lasers and cameras. Together, they allow vehicles to navigate the road, detect blind spots, move through traffic, and park unassisted.

Using Cameras and LIDAR in Autonomous Vehicle Design

Cameras are the most cost-effective of the technologies and provide a 360-degree view of the horizontal plane. Intelligent image processing allows the camera images and videos to capture the area surrounding the car, including the traffic signs and the subtle variations in color between a trailer and a brightly lit sky.

Illuminating the scenery using infrared light is also important, as it allows the vehicle to navigate at dusk, at night, or in low-light conditions. Infrared LEDs are excellent as light sources, and they’ve been used with Night Vision Assistance.

This is combined with roof LIDAR, or light detection and ranging, for three-dimensional mapping to inform what the vehicle “sees.” The sensor transmits a light pulse, which is reflected onto the detector by the object toward which the beam was directed. The distance between the sensor and object is measured by the time the light impulse needs to reach the object and return.

One of the first applications for LIDAR in vehicles was intelligent cruise control, or adaptive cruise control, which measures the distance to the car ahead and adjusts the speed to maintain a safe distance.

All technologies involved must work harmoniously to ensure a safe driving experience.

Automotive Applications of Fiber Optics

Fiber optics have a wide range of lighting applications in vehicles. Fiber transmits “cold” light, making it a safer alternative to traditional sealed beam or halogen lighting.[3] The light source is more flexible and offers a lot of creative freedom in the design for high-performance lighting in cars with minimal physical space for headlights and taillights.

For communications and sensing, fiber optics provides one of the best solutions for rapid information delivery. Most safety systems, including emergency response or pre-collision detection, require rapid communication to and from the monitoring system to the module. Fiber optics offer a large bandwidth, EMI and RFI immunity, and low cost for these mission-critical applications.

Optics in Supporting Industries

Aside from the use of optics for direct automotive applications, such as cameras and sensors, optics is revolutionizing industrial manufacturing.[4]

Performing manufacturing:

Light interacts with the finished or intermediate product, such as automotive components, and may be used for rapid prototyping or to adjust the design to suit the concept.

Controlling manufacturing:

Optics may be used to provide information about a manufacturing process, such as the use of optical sensors for in-line process control or to inspect a final product – an important capability when mass producing vehicles.

Some applications are better known, such as using lasers to cut, drill, or weld steel. Others are lesser known, such as using optical sensors to monitor the use of lasers for alignment and control.

The most important uses of optical manufacturing techniques apply to the five major U.S. industries, including the automotive industry. Some of the challenges are unique to the industry. But others require skilled optics technicians to produce robust and reliable equipment that’s suited to the design’s requirements and desired characteristics.

Apollo Optical Systems – Premier Automotive Optics Manufacturer

As vehicle technology becomes more advanced and we move toward autonomous driving, it’s likely that the optics technology and applications in the automotive industry will continue to grow and evolve. As a leading automotive optical manufacturing company, Apollo Optical Systems will play a key role in the future of the automotive industry.








About Dale Buralli

Dr. Dale Buralli has served as the Chief Scientist for Apollo Optical Systems since 2003. In this role, Dr. Buralli is responsible for the design and optical modeling of various optical systems. These systems include virtual or augmented reality, ophthalmic and other imaging or illumination systems. Additionally, he provides support for optical tooling of lens molds and prototypes, including the development of custom software for both production and metrology. Dr. Buralli got his Ph.D. in optics from the University of Rochester in 1991. Now he is an Adjunct Professor of Optics at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics.