Audi's Swarm concept reinvents the humble taillight


March 15, 2013

Audi's concept OLED taillight, Swarm

Audi's concept OLED taillight, Swarm

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Practically, this may be a terrible idea, but as a tech demo, it's an excellent illustration of OLED, and its potential to kick holes in the divide between what we think of as display technology and what we think of as lighting technology. The concept is called Swarm, and is in essence an ultra wide aspect ratio TV placed on a car's derrière where the taillights should be. The idea is that the swooping, fluid animations displayed will relay all sorts of useful information to other road users.

What sort of information can be relayed? Braking and indicating turns are a good start, obviously. Additionally, though, Audi suggests that the car's speed, the behavior of other traffic and even pitches and turns in the road could be relayed through various combinations of patterns and color. In effect, the car becomes a sort of benevolent autonomous sentinel.

The objection is obvious: that Swarm could prove more distracting than useful, and therefore be a potential hazard to other drivers. A spokesperson for the UK's Automobile Association has been widely reported as sounding a note of caution. "The Swarm is a delightful concept design but under current lighting regulations it is probably best saved for aquariums or art galleries," they said.

In the description of a YouTube video of the technology posted at the AudiAustralia account, the company hints that OLEDs may one day cover the car's entire body, inside and out, allowing animations that may highlight the door handle to the approaching driver (Audi's idea) or glow when orcs are near (my idea). Maybe people will just use it to sell advertising space on their car.

Swarm is version 0.1 of this theoretical OLEDified automobile of the future. Audi describes it as "a large, continuous light surface, with innumerable small points of light flickering like a swarm of fish." We look forward to version 0.2: "shoal of bees."

Oblig vid below...

Source: Audi

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

wow i love it i want a whole car covered with this you could put sensors or cameras all around the car and then use a computer to view the images and project onto the side of the car the view from that direction and create a very interesting camouflage effect


Brilliant! For years I have wanted one of those moving displays at the back of my vehicles so that I can say "Sorry" on the rare occasions that I do something silly and (more often) to say "You silly man/woman - you really should concentrate more" (or more probably just the one word) when the situation lends itself. An OLED screen with pre-programmed words operated by buttons on the steering wheel is just so much cooler.


That looks like one expensive taillight.


The problem with their demonstration is that it's not responsive enough and definitely has the potential for confusion. Such technology is awesome, but by the time such a thing could reach a low enough cost, cars will be driving themselves anyway, and the external visuals would just be...probably advertisements and arrows showing pedestrians where the car is going.

Joel Detrow

And yet another prediction of mine coming true.

The use of displays conformed to the surface of an object is going to change how we interact with the world around us.

Sure, it's tail lights now. But that same display could also be a user interface, and once covering the entire car, could enable all visual aspects of the car to be user controlled.

Valkyrie Ice

still have the tech 1987 reports how much better readable a self illuminating licence plate will be. also eu governement reply's they liked the idea on a eu plate with didnt come, just a small -at first illigal!- later required small eurosign with a country's first letters. so didnt make the 100 million cents i was thinking of. only cost as at the time i patented and proposed a retroreflecting self iluminating sticker made of 3m-usa material. stil dont like number plate dents and external lichting, maybe a cars number can be displayed this way. than again there is the legal issue but meanwhile have heard in japan cars ride with something like this..

Joop Dresscher

What will make this affordable is the car companies using it to advertise. Think of driving behind someone on an expressway who has moving ads running across the back of their car.... Oh, and of course, there's the whole road rage and texting-while-driving things to be considered also.


I just want a "Hang up and drive!!" message.

This would make a great stealth replacement for light bars atop police vehicles

Joel Reed

Big brother will like this. Inspection and license info could be programmed in so the police would know just by pulling up behind whom was driving, if the car was properly licensed, out past curfew or any other little detail. Fingerprint readers may take the place of keys for starting and the cars will not start if the right person is not touching the wheel. For the drivers comfort, the seat will automatically weigh the person for correct contour and if it does not meet the acceptalbe region, the car will not start or run without a passcode.

This may not be such a good idea, but it is where we are headed. It is cute, though.

Sonya Jones

This should not be allowed on the road... drivers will not know what is going on. The format of signaling shown is going to cause crashes and be useless as a signaling device.

The concept could also lead to obscene messages being displayed on the rear of cars to motorists and could lead to more road rage.

Eddie Hagler

Obsolete with robotic cars. None-standardized signals are a bad idea, but whole car ad displays become valuable with full automation of conventionally designed vehicles (ones designed for manual drive, all seats facing forward,) as something to catch otherwise passive 'operators' least until the windowless, driver-less designs start appearing...or older vehicles get equipped with full entertainment/work centers.

Charles Barnard

I would love a car with brake lights like that!! Somehow Audi just needs to make the oled's brighter. That would beautiful on a sports car.

Dear Audi:

Please work on those tail lights.

Thank you :)


Awesome! .. I'm not convinced that the active "swarming" lights would work well. I love the idea but will is distract other drivers from the task at hand i.e. driving safely? I think the OLED lights with Clear Basic light up areas to quickly give messages\action indications to other drivers without distraction would be better.

Just my humble opinion.

Gary Ashby
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