Laser vision! Headlight fibre optics could revolutionise the way riders see in the dark

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Recent years have seen the biggest technical revolution around motorcycle lighting since the introduction of the electric lamp – with the filament bulb finally giving way to brighter LED headlights across the majority of new bikes in the 2020s.

But there’s another technology out there that’s yet to make its way onto two wheels: laser headlights.

The idea to use lasers for headlights has been around in the car world for a decade, with the first production examples coming from BMW in 2014, but the tech still isn’t mainstream and hasn’t made its way to motorcycles.

That’s largely down to cost and packaging – laser headlights are terrifyingly expensive and bulkier than LEDs or traditional bulbs, both significant downsides for tightly packaged bikes in a competitive market.

BMW K1600GT concept front view

Although BMW showed a K1600GT fitted with laser headlights in 2016, those flashers didn’t reach as far as a production bike.

Now both Yamaha and Honda have been working on a similar idea to make lasers a viable option for bikes, exploiting their incredible brightness (BMW’s car versions illuminate the road as far as 600 metres ahead) using fibre optic cables.

Channelling the light through fibre optics means the lasers no longer need to be mounted within the tight confines of the headlight unit itself.

Yamaha MT-09 headlight planning patent showing central laser

The two Japanese companies have both hit on the idea of placing laser units under the seats of motorcycles and using fibre optic cables to take their output to where it’s needed. Yamaha’s version is the most recent.

The subject of several new patent applications, it evolves the underseat laser concept a step further: mitigating the cost of the system by deploying a single laser light source for all the bike’s illumination needs.

Fibre optic laser headlight diagram

Where Honda intended to use two expensive lasers – one for high beam and the other for low beam – and to stick with LED lights elsewhere, Yamaha take the light from one laser unit and use it for the headlights, taillights, number plate light, indicators, running lights and even the instrument lighting by splitting the light across multiple fibre optic cables.

Optical switches allow individual lights to be turned on and off while the central laser remains on whenever the motorcycle is running.

As well as the potential to use the vast output of the laser light to improve forward illumination, the idea has the potential to make lights smaller.

Honda NC750X headlight planning patent

Honda’s laser headlight patent suggests that the main-beam and dipped-beam lights could be packaged into the wing mirrors of a bike (illustrated on a Honda NC750X above).

Honda’s patent also includes a front-facing camera to watch for oncoming vehicles and automatically dip the beam – addressing the risk of dazzling other road users with the lasers’ blinding light.

The idea of underseat lasers also benefits the mass-centralisation of the motorcycles they’re fitted to, shifting bulk from the extremities to the middle, while helping protect the expensive laser from accidental damage.

Motorcycle riding at night

Fibre optic technology explored:

  • Keeping mass central Yamaha and Honda have filed patent applications for motorcycles with lasers mounted under their seats, using fibre optics to route their light to where it’s needed.
  • One for all Yamaha’s version of the design takes it a step further, splitting the fibre optic cable to take the light to both the front and rear of the bike, so the single laser source can be used for all the bike’s lighting if needed.
  • Colour change The single beam is reflected again through a layer of yellow phosphor which emits a bright white light instead of the laser’s blue.
  • Feeling blue Laser headlights, as used on some cars already, use blue laser beams (three, in the case of BMW’s lights), focused into a single beam by mirrors and a lens.
  • Main beam only The white light is diffused and reflected off a curved headlight reflector to create the desired beam pattern on the road ahead. Usually, the lasers are used only for main beam, with conventional LED lights for the dipped beam.