Headlights have come a long way since their introduction in the late 1880s. Back then, these were fueled by acetylene or oil before electric headlights appeared in the early 1900s. Sealed beam headlights represented the next major evolutionary leap in the 1930s before halogen brought a massive improvement in the 1960s. Xenon headlights aka high-intensity discharge (HID) were introduced in 1991 by BMW on the 7 Series E32. Fast forward to 2023, it’s all about LEDs.
Development never stops as there’s always room for improvement, which is why BMW has created the new Light Channel Next. What is it? At 132 meters long and 22 meters wide, it’s the Group’s largest development tool. Essentially, it’s a test bed with a total area of nearly 3,000 square meters located in a former parts warehouse near Munich in Germany. It has been painted in a special matte black color able to absorb light and therefore avoid unwanted reflections from the ceiling or walls.
The test wall alone is 18 meters wide and three meters high and is being used to analyze future highly adaptive headlights. There’s also a daylight wall measuring ten meters wide and five meters tall to test turn signals and daytime running lights. Even BMW’s so-called “light carpets” can be tested there.
BMW mentions the Light Channel Next is already in use and boasts four different surfaces, including a central area that underwent a surface grinding process to deliberately age it and therefore mimic an actual road. The luxury brand has even installed an oiled parquet floor we typically see at car shows. While the images show the XM and i7, the new facility will also be used to test new technologies for MINI and their distinctive Union Jack motif found in the taillights.
BMW deliberately chose the high-end SUV and sedan since the two cars have the company’s new and rather unusual split headlight design also used by the X7 LCI. The daytime running lights have been separated from the main cluster by being relocated to an upper strip, which can be optionally had with Swarovski crystals on the 7 Series / i7 and the X7.