The perfect setting: Light innovation for aviation and automotive

Scandinavian Airlines has been using the SCHOTT HelioJet® SpectrumCC Cabin lighting solution in its A330 and A340 aircraft since 2015. Special lighting effects can be achieved that give passengers a unique, pleasant feeling above the clouds. Photo: SCHOTT.

Everything looks clearer and more polished in natural light, but achieving the sophistication and subtle touch of natural lighting at 30,000 feet or during nighttime driving is incredibly difficult. That hasn’t stopped SCHOTT, the technology group and lighting experts, from building specialty glass and lighting solutions that mimic the colors and temperatures of natural light in these man-made environments. SCHOTT uses light from LEDs and directs it to desired locations with optical fibers. Millions of colors of light, lead to an experience that’s more pleasing to the human eye. This technology is used to create special lighting effects inside airplanes and automobiles.

We perceive our environment optically, which is why our day-night-rhythm is so reliant on light. As a result, the color and intensity of light significantly influence our mood and sleep cycles. Today, airlines are employing lighting systems that can positively impact a passenger’s mood, sleep patterns, and in-flight experience.

“The designers of aircraft and vehicle interiors use these effects of light when they develop cabins. They beautify the artificially created space for human perception in such a way that the passengers experience the journey and the time after the flight as comfortable as possible,” says Christine Luedeke, Professor of Design at Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences.

Apart from providing purely functional lighting, ambient lighting also plays an important role in an aircraft cabin. Modern cabin illumination has been combined with ambient elements such as an overhead starry sky, contour lighting on fixed edges, or new types of reading lights, to create a total lighting package for passengers.

“The in-flight experience is greatly impacted by light, whether passengers realize it or not. Gentle adjustments to a cabin’s lighting before landing can slowly wake passengers, rather than jolting them awake with harsh and instant illumination. The approach now is to look at interior cabin lighting from a broader perspective,” explains Dr. Burkhard Danielzik, Vice President of Aviation & Automotive at SCHOTT.

16 million colors in an aircraft—perfectly staged

With its HelioJet® SpectrumCC cabin lighting solution, SCHOTT offers the first full-color LED system able to generate uniform light from nose to tail. LEDs are perfectly suited for every aspect of a cabin lighting system because they are the only electric light source that can render the entire color spectrum—approximately 16 million colors—perceived by the human eye. To ensure the system creates smooth lighting transitions and beautiful colors, SCHOTT developed an intelligent sensor control system that measures each individual LED package and compensates for any possible color deviations.

To combat the conventional weakness of LEDs—their colors perceptibly change as they age and experience temperature fluctuations—SCHOTT houses both ends of an LED with an optical light guide made of glass. One sensor for an LED unit monitors the color quality, ensuring homogeneous light over the entire illumination period. This technology enables the system to produce different lighting scenarios such as sunsets or sunrises, continuously and evenly.

“This sensor technology has proven so successful that we can extend this principle to the entire lighting system in an aircraft. Cabin and ambient lighting can be controlled uniformly, making the interior lighting a complete experience. Thanks to our holistic light management concept, we see great potential for innovative lighting concepts for airlines,” Danielzik adds.

The car as a comfort oasis

The same experience can be achieved behind the wheel. Glass optical fiber lighting elements are redefining vehicle interiors by emphasizing contours and creating more subtle lighting. Tucked away from common sight lines, these “sidelights” also add mood lighting to the inside of a car.

The result is that a car’s interior feels more spacious and multifaceted, as this ambient lighting in the door, center console, and footwell strategically alters perceptions; passengers can adjust individual light colors to create a personal place that feels more comfortable. And when passengers step out of the car, they encounter accent lights—exterior fiber optic lighting in the running boards. 

These lighting fibers can also shift perception when passengers look through the sun roof. Subtle contour lighting detailed in the edges of a panoramic roof creates the illusion that the sun roof has evaporated, giving passengers unfettered views of the sky’s vastness.

“The smallest improvements can have profound effects, and that’s especially true inside a car. By upgrading interior lighting with fiber optics, car brands can offer a more comfortable and spacious riding experience in the next generation of vehicles,” says Danielzik.