April 12, 2024
Conference Paper

What the Flicker is going on here? Temporal Light Modulation in Automotive Lighting


Temporal light modulation (TLM), colloquially known as “flicker,” is once again an issue in almost all lighting applications, due to widespread adoption of LED and OLED sources and their driving electronics. A subset of LED/OLED lighting systems delivers problematic TLM, often in specific types of residential, commercial, outdoor, and vehicular lighting. Dashboard displays, touchscreens, marker lights, taillights, daytime running lights, interior lighting, etc. frequently use PWM circuits to achieve different luminances for different times of day and user visual adaptation levels. The resulting TLM waveforms and viewing conditions can result in distraction and disorientation, nausea, cognitive effects, and serious health consequences in some populations, occurring with or without the driver, passenger, or pedestrian consciously “seeing” the flicker. There are three visual responses to TLM: direct flicker, the stroboscopic effect, and phantom array effect (also called the “beads effect”). Metrics for the first two have limitations in both calculation and application. The phantom array effect has no established visibility measure at all, and this is the effect most associated with vehicular flicker because of the widespread use of PWM. Conventional wisdom from the recent past, especially concerning acceptable driver frequency ranges, needs to be reconsidered and replaced with improved guidelines to protect health and comfort. Four principal TLM waveform characteristics affect TLM visibility: frequency, modulation depth, duty cycle, and waveshape. This paper proposes much higher frequency operation if PWM control cannot be avoided; but it may be possible to modify the four principal waveform characteristics together in order to achieve reduced TLM visibility and improved health and comfort.

Published: April 12, 2024


Miller N.J., and L.C. Irvin. 2024. What the Flicker is going on here? Temporal Light Modulation in Automotive Lighting. In SAE World Congress Exhibition (WCX 2024), April 16-18, 2024, Detroit, MI, Technical Paper No. 2024-01-2462. Warrendale, Pennsylvania:SAE International. PNNL-SA-192198. doi:10.4271/2024-01-2462

Research topics