The BMW X7 redefines excellence. Opulent yet adventurous, it takes X model capability and infuses it with pure luxury. This is a Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) unlike any other.

One of its most intriguing features is BMW Laserlight; a revolutionary new lighting system that is leading the way in headlight innovation. Dr. Abdelmalek Hanafi, one of the pioneering engineers behind the technology, explains why it’s changing the way we see the world.

BMW X7 with Laserlight headlights

It’s late at night, but Dr. Hanafi is beaming. He’s just driven the BMW X7 for the first time and he’s clearly impressed with its seductive blend of refinement and power. Out of the lab and on the open, empty, roads outside Munich, the 49-year-old Canadian has been testing BMW Laserlight, an innovation he has pioneered. With a much larger reach than conventional LED headlights, it illuminates the road ahead with incredible intensity, up to 600 metres into the distance. He describes it like going from night to day.

“It is an honour to be involved in creating growth at BMW. BMW Laserlight is something that is closely associated with BMW, and we are proud to be contributing to the company’s success”, says Hanafi modestly. He smiles and adds: “And as a Canadian, I really like SAVs. The BMW X7 is big enough to be ideal for families, and at the same time it is synonymous with luxury. It’s a pure pleasure to drive.”  

As he steps out of the X7’s luxuriously appointed cabin, eyes shining, he whistles, “This is some baby – amazing!” 

Dr. Hanafi testing Laserlight LEDs


Dr. Hanafi is used to being in the dark. He spends his days working alongside his fellow engineers in BMW’s state-of-the-art Light Laboratory:  a long, narrow room, tucked away deep in the basement of the BMW Research and Innovation Centre in Munich.

Hanafi is in his element here, among the cables, light diodes and countless technical tools. His fascination with light is clear. “Photons travel at the speed of light, which is around 186,000 miles per second, and the fastest that it’s possible to travel. At this speed and with the properties of light, we could explore the infinite largeness and smallness of the universe.”

But for Dr. Hanafi this isn’t about quantum mechanics. This is the stuff of everyday life. “Light is a part of our lives,” he says, “without it, we wouldn’t be able to see anything.”

Having studied physics in France, he realised he had a particular interest in the research and development of laser technology. “I always got good results for anything that had to do with photonics, quantum mechanics and electro-magnetic radiation”, says Hanafi modestly. It was this passion for lasers that finally brought him to BMW nearly ten years ago.

At BMW he started collaborating with Dr. Helmut Erdl and a small, but continually growing team to develop a very bright white light source based on lasers. The aim was to achieve the highest possible visibility in order to make driving in the dark safer. After years of development, in 2014 the BMW i8 became the first production model to offer BMW Laserlight.  A lighting revolution had begun.

Dr. Hanafi


Since its debut, BMW Laserlight has been installed in many iconic BMW models and Dr. Hanafi is justifiably proud of his team’s innovation. And, as it turns out, there are more benefits to laser technology than you might realise. “The problem with both xenon headlights and halogen lights is that they are just too bulky. Laser headlights can generate a lot of energy in a very small space.” explains Hanafi. They require around 30 percent less energy than LED headlights which makes them highly effective. For motorists this means far better visibility on dark roads. They are also reactive, automatically dimming when faced with oncoming traffic.

And there’s another upside to their smaller size.  A more compact footprint gives BMW designers the freedom they need to create light designs based on aesthetic principles, rather than technological constraints.

The close cooperation between designers and engineers was crucial during the design process of the BMW X7, contributing to its sleek, confident profile.  “As engineers, we respect designers' wishes and make them come true – if possible,” explains Hanafi. A perfect example is the integration of a blue “X” in the white headlight. Blue and white: the BMW colours.

BMW X7 Laserlight headlight close-up


For Dr. Hanafi, BMW Laserlight is just the beginning. He has big plans for the future. Combining laser headlights with LED was just the first step. “There are so many things we want to achieve. We are eager to further improve both safety and the driving experience” he says.

Advances in light system technology open a world of possibility for Hanafi and his team, including applications that allow you to send and receive lettering or small symbols, something that’s becoming increasingly popular in China.

It’s these opportunities that inspire Hanafi to go even further. He sees BMW Laserlight as a springboard for concepts that were previously inconceivable.

For BMW that means the prospect of many exciting new developments in the next few years – and for Dr. Abdelmalek Hanafi it means many more fascinating months spent exploring the small and large infinity of the universe.

As he says himself, “We’re only just starting out”.

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