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[insert "bright future" joke here]

This is fun, right? We’re having fun!

Well, here we are in the World of Tomorrow. The food pills and flying cars are some ways off, but our brave boys in the trenches of science have figured out how to harness those spastic blinky necklaces (pictured) issued by law to every obnoxious child at every fireworks display and use their power for good. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the LED headlamp.
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The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Platinum blinds you with science

Okay, now that we’re past the jump and you’re no longer having an animated .gif-induced seizure, we can begin our discussion in earnest. The past few months have been rich with press releases and articles the industry’s crush on LED lighting.
LEDs have been on cars for several years – they show up in the high-mounted brake lights and turn signals on many newer vehicles. But with the LED detailing that highlights the lines of the Audi S6 and R8 (where they are cleverly used as design elements as much as technology improvements), the first wave of cars that makes wider use of the technology has hit the road. By the end of the year, there will be a vehicle – the Platinum edition Escalade mentioned above – that eliminates xenon and halogen completely and lights the highway with an array electronic pinpricks alone.

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It’s like eyeliner for luxury cars.

There’s a reason LEDs are only shedding their light on luxury brands right now: A panel of white diodes costs a whopping 20 times as much as a standard headlight. And while they produce a bright, warm light that comes pretty close to simulating daylight, LEDs burn hot. To keep them lit, manufacturers must install an additional fan assembly or other cooling device. Those added expenses aren’t great for the bottom line – unless they’re being sold in the luxury market, where buyers’ decisions are less cost-sensitive.
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Automakers, please don’t ever use blue LEDs. It hurts my eyes just to look at a picture of them.

Of course, there’s a lot of good in LEDs that I expect will keep them from spending too long as a luxury novelty. A standard bulb is good for roughly 1,500 hours of light, but an LED can provide upwards of 75,000 hours of illumination. They’re so much smaller than regular bulbs that, as prices inevitably fall, more and more companies will, like Audi, use them as a styling tool to highlight graceful design and hot angles with colored light.
There’s a compelling safety reason for more vehicles to employ LED lighting: LEDs light up about half a second faster than incandescent bulbs. At highway speeds, that’s about a full car-length of additional reaction time for other drivers to avoid potential hazards. BMW, Lexus, Cadillac and a handful of other makes already take advantage of this. Again, as LED prices fall, we can expect to see more and more of this kind of taillight.
Are you ready to see LEDs coming up in the rear-view mirror? Are they worth the expense, or are we smarter to stick with tried-and-true illumination? Tell me about it in the comments.

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