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Displays in vehicles are increasing in size, value and use. Customers who are used to gorgeous displays on their mobile devices will soon be seeing clearer, more colourful images with improved, in-car user experiences. Industry insiders detail the latest technology coming to automotive screens.

Continental Adds New Finishing Touches to Touch-Screens & Curves

Making displays for automotive use is no easy task, especially development timing. The displays have to be able to withstand negative 40 and plus 85 degrees C, says Eric Miciuda, Manager, Input Devices and Displays at Continental.

“LCD is the most common form of screen. Now, we are working with LTPS (low-temperature polysilicon). We’ve been pushing up from 166 pixels per inch to 200 pixels per inch. The challenge with bigger screens is to make them higher resolution,” says Miciuda.

Continental has two solutions to help users interact with haptic physical touch and 3D touch.

3D Touch Surface Display is a touchscreen with a 3D surface on top of a display, called Carbon Nanobud (CNB) film into the display. It creates physical finger guides and haptic feedback that can be felt by the user.

“With the 3D touch, it makes it easier for blind operations where you don’t have to look at the screen. It’s important when designing HMI and creating the screens to design in such a way to reduce off-road glances,” says Miciuda.

Continental’s Curved Plastic Lense Display, with plastic lenses, enables curved surfaces. It helps integrate with the style and curves of the dashboard which Continental markets as user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing.

There’s a trend towards extending the screen across the entire dash. It will make it easier in the future for when cameras are used instead of side-view mirrors, adds Miciuda.

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From LCD to OLED – What Qualities Should Automotive Displays Have?

The most prominent features and displays are the sizes and quality. They are used in the instrument cluster as well as for the centre stack, says Elijah Auger, Senior Manager, Advanced Display Engineering & Platforms, Visteon.

LCD stands for liquid crystal display. LCD has a backlight transmissive liquid crystal creating a prism to create colours. One of the problems with LCDs is that it is difficult to create the colour black. It can only achieve a very dark grey, says Auger.

OLED (organic light-emitting diode) are emissive displays where each pixel has its own light source. A problem with OLED screens is that they may not be bright enough to be seen in bright light conditions such as the interior of a car with direct sunlight.

“Have you looked at your AMOLED phone in the sunshine? It’s very hard to see,” says Auger.

A new kind of LCD-based screen from Visteon is called microZone. It’s been patented and engineered for automotive with a greater range of the visible colour spectrum, high contrast ratio and high brightness as well as low power use. It allows areas to remain black on the screen. Better image quality is needed not only for spectacular entertainment but also for photo-realism from cameras.

“Image quality is important because the display needs to show photo-realism at any time of day or night. The best overall contrast is needed for comprehension from cameras for lane-keeping, rear-view and surround-view cameras to help parking and more,” says Auger.

Glare is also displayed on the screens. Some car screens look foggy or hazy, says Auger, which due to an anti-glare coating. Automakers are now requesting lower amounts of anti-glare and using anti-reflection coatings.

When more than one person shares a screen in a car – there is a need for privacy. Visteon is developing a privacy filter so that the passenger doesn’t see what the driver sees and vice versa.

Designers see the dash as part of their design. Using curved glass gives displays more appeal. Visteon’s Flexible Rotating Glass Cockpit offers a new twist in displays.

“The Flexible Rotating Glass Cockpit has a curve on the instrument cluster and a curved aspect on the centre display but the best part is that it bends,” says Auger.

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The interior space of automobiles will need to keep our attention.

The dash is the 3D landscape of vehicle interiors and instead of having displays be separate from the dash–they could become part of it. Film technology from FlexEnable shown at this year’ SID (Society for Information Displays) Symposium on Vehicle Displays and Interfaces.

Trends in automotive functionality show that greater functionality and an increase in the density of displays increasing the number of flat-panels. If an increasing number of flat panel displays are to be used then undesirable design constraints soon turns out to be a problem, says Jonathan Huggins, Senior Engineer, FlexEnable.

“FlexEnable provides the conformability required to open up a wide range of new concepts for automotive displays. Displays can be inserted into tight interior spaces without disrupting interior ergonomics, says Huggins.

FlexEnable is a spin-off of the University of Cambridge. It created an organic transistor technology platform for flexible displays and sensors. FlexEnable offers screens on thin comforable film that can be formed onto almost any surface. Their product (OLCD) organic LCD has an LCD frontplane and organic thin-film transistors (OTFT) backplane that is shatterproof.

FlexEnable partnered with Novares for OLCD concepts. Concepts include an A-pillar display that shows what is outside the pillar and an interior side-view monitor. For even better images FlexEnable’s Dual Cell OLCD concept can achieve HDR (High Dynamic Range) contrast levels of around 1,000,000:1.

Flexible liquid crystal cells can also be used for colour-neutral, rapidly switchable smart window films that can be biaxially conformed to automotive glazing, reports Huggins.

“Autonomous vehicles are now an inevitability rather than a distant pipedream. The interior space of automobiles will need to keep our attention. This means more interior focus, more functionality and more user interface,” notes Huggins. FlexEnable can be formed on the backs of seats, doors and curved dash surfaces.

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Why Do Drivers Need Bigger Screens?

The demand for automotive products both in the personal and commercial space will be as strong as ever in the future. The differentiation of these products will largely occur in the digital domain. Interior display and interface technology will play an ever-increasing vital role in meeting customer needs and expectations, reported John Schneider, Director, Electrical, Software, Compute, & AI Technology, Research & Advanced Engineering at Ford Motor Company.

He says the primary challenge is that automakers need to offer the best possible user experience at an affordable cost.

“Customers today expect larger and more capable displays within their vehicles both as a statement about their purchase and as a promise of their anticipated future user experiences. Automakers are racing to meet that expectation with vehicle screen sizes expected to more than double over the near term,” further reported Schneider at the SID symposium.

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How Big Should Automotive Displays Be?

Bigger is not always better when it comes to displays. Mark Boyadjis, global technology lead for the Automotive Advisory, IIHS Markit, says automakers use screen size for marketing and ‘wow appeal’. He notes that the BYTON 42 inch screen (106.68 cm) has not made it to market.

Some automakers put in a big screen and then add a toggle wheel which makes it confusing for users, says Boyadjis.

“We’ve seen a progression from five-six-seven and eight-inch screens and to twelve inches (30.cm). However, what is most important is the user experience,” says Boyadjis. For example, the Tesla user experience is easy to use and only has one screen.

When given an easier option drivers may not even look at displays. Nomi is a personal voice-controlled little pet-like smart speaker globe on the dash of NIO vehicles that talks to the driver. After introducing Nomi, it’s Ux designer told Boyadjis that users of the vehicle stopped using the centre stack by 70%.

Boyadjis isn’t excited about mirrors being replaced by cameras and monitors.

“When replacing mirrors with cameras, you do not have the same depth of field. You’re trying to make a 3D image on a two-plane device,” says Boyadjis. However, he notes displays do help for adapted cruise control and other safety functions such as backup cameras and blind spots.

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What is the Next Big/Microscopic Thing Coming to Display Tech in the Future?

The next kind of screens coming to vehicles is expected to be MicroLED. MicroLED offers microscopic self-emissive inorganic LEDs with high contrast, high brightness, wide colour gamut and high pixel density. It is less affected by external light sources than OLED.

When Auger was asked about Visteon’s plans for MicroLED – he would not comment.

“MicroLED could be the holy grail for automotive display applications nearly maxing out against all attributes from environmental to design. MicroLED may well become the next display technology of choice when the industry is able to overcome the commercialization issues that it currently faces,” says Schneider.

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