Next generation display systems
Thin-film-transistor (TFT) liquid crystal displays have been in use for many years in the automotive world, but they are expected to increase considerably in the coming years if industry estimates are to be believed.
According to the latest DisplaySearch Display Report TFT-LCD panels in the automotive instrument cluster sector are expected to grow 48% in the coming year to reach over 30 million units, with further growth expected to lead to the shipment of upwards of 50 million units in 2018.
Research from Frost and Sullivan suggests that there will be 6.2 million automated vehicles by 2028, with up to 10% classed as highly automated.
7 out of 10 OEMs are actively pursuing collision avoidance ADAS systems in C and D segments, while volume OEMs such as Ford and Toyota are increasingly looking to introduce health wellness features. All of these advances require highly intelligent HMI systems to relay information and warnings quickly and easily to the driver, while interaction must continue to become easier and focus on reducing driver distraction. While consumers may not be overly concerned with such futuristic concepts such as hand/air gestures, in general they are demanding more functionality and connectivity from their vehicles, which presents many challenges to the industry as to how to implement such functions.
In their current form TFT-LCD displays are used for many functions in the vehicle, from controlling air conditioning and audio controls, to replacing analogue instrument clusters to provide critical information to the driver. However, with the increasing development of ADAS systems,rear-view parking video, and the replacement of side-view mirrors with video, there is greater demand on the display.
The use of touchscreen technology to mimic that of a smartphone with the option of using apps, taking phone calls, sending and receiving emails, navigation and car-to-X communication capability, there is a varied demand on improving the usability and interaction with displays. This of course, must be considered in the context of simple-to-use concepts and the ongoing issue of driver distraction.
The growing use of electronics to control the various driving and functional capability of vehicles gives rise to questions of handwriting recognition, speech recognition and hand or air gesture control. While the development of clearer better quality screen resolution and the potential to produce irregular shapes allows better design in terms of digital instrument clusters, centre stacks and passenger display screens. Several OEMs are already beginning to improve upon functionality and the interactive capability of TFT-LCD displays, with furtherresearch and development into AR-HUD (augmented reality heads-up display).
Ford introduced the third generation of its SYNC infotainment system last year, SYNC 3, with enhanced voice recognition and capacitive touch screen display; but rather than continue on the path of offering an in-house alternative to Apple Carplay and Android Auto, the automotive giant has announced that both will be integrated into the new system for 2017 models and beyond. The capacitive touchscreen has increased functionality such as swipe and pinch-and-zoom facilities that consumers have become used to on smartphones, and Ford says the system delivers much improved high-speed performance.
By integrating smartphone connectivity and Carplay and Android Auto, drivers will be able to use Siri for voice commands through Apple’s personal assistant, while having access to navigation and the range of apps available on either system.
Ford has also developed SYNC Connect technology, which allows owners to communicate with their cars via a smartphone. This includes remote functions such as locking and unlocking the vehicle, remote start which can preheat the cabin and have the car ready to go in the morning, vehicle status with checks such as fuel, oil, tyre pressure and battery levels, and vehicle location – showing where the car is on a map. Plans are also afoot to link SYNC Connect to services like Amazon Echo and Wink, which will enable users to stay connected to their homes and control things like lights and heating from their car.
Further news involves Ford’s link with Israeli start-up Mishor 3D to develop augmented reality HUD systems to project navigation routes and driver information directly onto the windscreen.
Continental were prominent at CES 2016 with a range of new display technologies on show, previewing the next generation of head units which the automotive supplier says will revolutionise the user experience.
The technology company’s Dynamic eHorizon system uses a curved integrated centrestack and a thin adaptable faceplate to provide an innovative way of combining enhanced online data and driver HMI. At CES 2016 Continental demonstrated what it describes as ‘holistic connectivity’. The centrestack display features haptic feedback, force sensing and a sensor for gesture detection to improve usability. The system combines two 12.3 AMOLED touch display screens, with the haptic feedback, force sensing and finger guidance all contributing to reduced driver distraction.
Continental has also developed a unique concept that allows the shifting of content across screen boundaries and over various displays. This means that the driver is free to move content from display to digital instrument cluster as required, allowing them to select the relevant information and where it will appear on the vehicle’s various displays. This is based on the core technology of a HMI server, which follows an intelligent strategy to display information that the driver requires, and information the driver needs depending on certain driver conditions. It allows a great deal of flexibility and personalisation.
Another new concept is the AutoLinQ system which allows a driver’s or passenger’s smartphone apps to be integrated into the infotainment system. Based on HTML5 frameworks, the technology enables apps to be easily installed from smartphone to head unit, and integrated into the HMI system. The 17 millimetre faceplate of the centrestack has no mechanical buttons and can be replaced by the individual OEM to suit drivers in different parts of the world, while the computing hardware underpinning the technology remains the same. The entire faceplate is covered by a capacitive surface, which includes electro-luminescent foil to replace LEDs, and the reconfigurable software means that drivers can create their own HMI by adding shortcut buttons to apps and functions on the display to software buttons on the faceplate.
Audi demonstrated its new display concept at the CES 2016 with a mock-up of the new Audi e-tron Quattro concept.
Audi’s version features a curved OLED screen in the driver’s immediate field of vision, while the two MMI displays in the centre console provide an outlook of Audi’s vision of the future of HMI. Key functions can be controlled by voice recognition, and the large touchscreens also make use of what the carmaker calls Audi MMI Touch Response – force sensing technology. The new display system is powered by the latest generation of Audi Modular Infotainment Platform MIB2+, with its increased computing power able to drive several high resolution displays. This includes the Audi Virtual Cockpit which is a 12.3 inch TFT display that provides all information in 3D graphics with the driver able to choose between various different views.
One of the standout concepts on display at the CES 2016 in January was BMW’s i8 Concept Spyder interior, which features a 21 inch wide screen in the driver’s field of vision to showcase what the user interface of the future might look like. The gesture control concept of AirTouch was also introduced, which allows the user intuitive control of entertainment, navigation and communication functions using simple gestures with a flat hand. This effectively enables the display to be used as a touchscreen device without actually making contact with the surface of the display.
Sensors record hand movements in the area between the centre console and the interior mirror, which enables the driver or passengers to change the focus on the surface of the panoramic display. Simple confirmation then selects the relevant menu or activates the control. BMW presented gesture control at last year’s CES, but AirTouch goes a step further with more intuitive controls.
Sensors are installed in the area of the instrument dashboard, thus enabling three-dimensional control, while buttons are included both on the steering wheel and passenger-side door sill to enable quick and easy selection. This creates a more intuitive control as the user can navigate with one hand and quickly select a given menu or icon with the other.
While economic restraints will ensure that TFT displays are more commonly used in the near future, OLED displays may prove to be a long-term successor due to superior visual quality. Meanwhile manufacturers continue to grapple with the concepts of gesture control and intuitive voice control to make use of the possibilities provided by connectivity and greater electronic functions, with a careful eye on driver distraction.