I can not count the number of times I saw an old Popular Mechanics article or a print from the 20’s and 30’s about the future and how we’d have flying cars living in high rise Utopia Metropolis. Even in Back to The Future II, Robert Zimeckis from 1985 portrayed 2015 as with flying Jeeps and instant Pepsi’s. It isn’t hard to think that way – that such things were thought feasible and attainable purely due the the incredible rate of technological advancement from post Manhattan Project World War II and onward. Even today technology advances at a unreasonable rate – but it is in different sections of life that these advancements are made than what people thought would happen. Remember your TI-86 calculator from high school algebra? The processing capacity of that calculator is many magnitudes greater than the computers that landed the Lunar Module on the Apollo missions. Now we have Smart Phones who’s capabilities completely eclipse the limits of Super Computers fifteen years ago.
Yet with all that innovation, 75% of all the vehicles on the road in North America today still use a variant of the light bulb that Thomas Edison invented more than 100 years ago. A suspended Tungsten filament incased in a vacuumed glass tube. The nature of Tungsten’s electrical resistance makes it glow with incredible vibrance, at the cost of converting electricity to heat. The unfortunate aspect of this is that the processes of energy conversion in this situation is incredibly inefficient. Significantly more energy is lost in the form of heat than is converted to light – and that is a problem we’ve been dealing with for years.
Over the course of time, costs have dropped and slowly High Intensity Discharge arc lamps have begun replacing the long lived Incandescent bulb. HID bulbs have been around for a very long time. High power Carbon Arc capsules have been used since World War II in several Kilowatt search lights to aid Flak and Anti-Aircraft teams during night time Air Raids. One famous occasion was the Soviets’ use of search lights during the Battle of Berlin in 1945. 143 searchlights were directed at the Germans across the Neisse River, with the aim of temporarily blinding them during a Soviet attack. However, the morning fog diffused the light and silhouetted the attacking Soviet forces, making them clearly visible to the Germans. The Soviets suffered heavy losses as a result and were forced to delay their invasion of the city.
More recently Light Emitting Diodes have began to show their prominence. A LED is a semiconductor light source. When a light-emitting diode is switched on, electrons are able to recombine with holes within the device, releasing energy in the form of photons. This effect is called electroluminescence and the color of the light (corresponding to the energy of the photon) is determined by the energy band gap of the semiconductor.
Falling costs of manufacturing the diodes as well as better understanding of heat removal from the circuitry and less complex microprocessor drivers. LED’s are the most efficient light source we have available to us today. Their thermal efficiency is many magnitudes greater than an incadecent bulb, and still even more efficient than powerful HIDs. Their greatest benefits aside from their high efficiency is their proportionally small size, versatility and durability. Because a LED is a solid state device, it has no moving parts and no delicate components. Their extreme durability and form factor have allowed them to forge into automotive lighting in the form of marker and running lights – and more recently; forward lighting.
Trucklite LLC was the first manufacturer to produce a DOT approved forward LED lighting array with their Phase 6 7″ replacement. The light featured 8 individual LED’s behind projector lenses that were switched on as high and low beams. The following year Trucklite revised their design and opted for a Complex reflector and downsizing to dual LED arrays. The current generation meets and exceeds FMVSS-108 and CMVSS-108 DOT requirements for low and high beam performance. they feature military grade, die-cast aluminum housings and non-yellowing laminated poly-carbonate (bulletproof glass) lenses. The electronics and drivers are fully sealed in epoxy to resist damaged caused by moisture and corrosion. The lights feature four 15watt CREE LEDs with a maximum draw of 46.08 watts individually and produce 5800 Kelvin color – which is nearly the color of sunlight.
Ive had these lights on my Jeep for a little over a year and they’re excellent. The low beam is vastly improved over the stock setup, and the high beam produces so much light, the only real way to describe it is excessive. I do a lot of night time driving and I’m happy to say that these are easily one of my favorite lights. They’re efficient, long lasting, incredibly durable and look bad-ass. They feature black innards that give a cool smoked look and produce a brilliant white light that contrasts everything in front of them. They’re 100% military, and are featured on nearly all newer military trucks (Humvees all the way to MRAP’s). And best of all, they’re made right here in the USA with USA components.
But all that comes at a deceiving cost. Due to the nature of of a diode – no forward heat is produced. All the heat that is produced at thermal loss is entirely in the circuitry on the back side of the housing. Because of this issue of no forward heat, during heavy wet snow ice accumulation is an issue. There is no heat created to melt, and the aluminum block of my Jeep simply doesn’t make enough radiant heat to assist in the removal. This is an issue for me, as during one evening around christmas on my 20 mile trek home from work I had to get out and remove the buildup three different times.
It is unfortunate that this issue has guilted me in a significance that I have considered replacing the lights with their much hotter and more delicate HID brethren. But every time I weigh the inconvenience of stopping in the rare occurrence of blizzard like conditions in the southern mid-west, I keep coming back to the pure rugged durability of an LED, and its unreasonably long life span. You really truly cannot beat it. The benefits of LED’s are overwhelming to their very limited con’s. All that said – we are witnessing the early stages of lighting evolution. In a few short years, this article will be ancient and irrelevant as incadecents fade into the history books for forever and the rein of LED’s are ushered in. I for one, welcome our new electrical overlords.