Displays and Autonomous Driving Challenges and Solutions in the US
Figures from IHS markit in 2017 estimate that the combined value of the centre stack display, instrument cluster display and heads-up display markets could reach more than $20.8 billion by 2022 - an increase of $9.2 billion in annual revenue in just five years.
Currently, the centre stack display market accounts for global revenues of $6.1 billion, the instrument display market accounts for global revenues of $4.8 billion and the heads-up display market accounts for just $731 million. However, the latter market shows the largest growth potential in terms of percentage over the period up to 2022.
The report cites various sources for such an increase, including simple volume increases - as more and more cars are produced with increasingly sophisticated display systems, and the growth of the technology value itself. As display systems become larger and capable of greater functionality, so the costs naturally increase.
Another key driving force is that of autonomous vehicles, particularly as drivers of future vehicles will be less responsible for control of the car and more able to indulge in other tasks made viable by connectivity and advanced computing power. One challenge for the automotive industry and the respective players in this space is the integration of this technology and the development of human-machine-interface capability as autonomous technology slowly takes over the task of driving.
The Impact of Autonomous Vehicles
We have seen many innovative and futuristic concept vehicles over recent years which point towards a sea-change in the way we interact with our cars. Fully-autonomous vehicles - when they arrive - present the opportunity to completely remove the driver from the act of driving. This is a revolutionary change whereby even the position of the occupants within the vehicle is up for grabs. Why face forward and watch the road when you could sit back and read emails, watch television or even take a nap?
That somewhat distant idea remains the aim, but an abrupt change is hardly likely to occur. Rather, OEM’s and display manufacturers must map out the steps on the path towards such a goal by introducing new concepts and innovations one step at a time. In this respect, the race is very much on to develop the ‘best’ models for advanced display systems. This can be viewed in a variety of ways. As ever, manufacturers are keen to differentiate their brands by producing the most aesthetically pleasing and functional HMI systems. New revenue streams are opened up in terms of advertising and connected services, while consumer satisfaction points to personalisation and integration with mobile devices.
Suppliers to the automotive industry are keen to ride this wave of innovation and developments in OLED technology and 3D visual displays are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in our future vehicles. Some of the key players in the US market and their relevant technologies are discussed below.
Visteon is one of the leading suppliers of innovative cockpit electronics products and connected car solutions in the US. At CES 2018 the technology firm introduced a range of more than 40 display systems aimed at accelerating the transition to all-digital vehicle cockpits, and speeding the development and commercialization of autonomous driving solutions. These include fully reconfigurable instrument clusters, advanced digital display technologies, driver monitoring, ADAS integration, and the industry’s first cockpit domain controller.
As electronics proliferate the vehicle, OEMs and suppliers are increasingly aware of the need to save cost, space and power consumption. Visteon’s SmartCore domain controller - set to debut with a European-based automaker in 2018 - enables the integration of instrument cluster, infotainment and heads-up displays into one ECU instead of three. On show at CES 2018 was a SmartCore domain controller incorporating Visteon’s driver information applications and Android O-based infotainment, running on Qualcomm’s 820 AM Snapdragon processor.
In terms of displays, Visteon introduced digital solutions for all vehicle segments featuring display sizes from 7.3 inches to 20 inches, with embedded functionality including camera systems and ambient lighting. One innovative demonstrator was an OLED instrument cluster with 1920 x 720 resolution and an ultra-thin 5mm profile. Another was a 4K x 1K instrument cluster with integrated infrared driver monitoring cameras designed for facial recognition and head and eye-gaze tracking. Such innovations will be essential to semi-autonomous vehicles in order to determine driver awareness and readiness to resume control of the car.
Other display innovations include selective dimming, curved surfaces, enhanced optics management, centre displays with HS haptics, and a new interior rearview e-mirror which is able to switch from mirror mode to display mode. In development of heads-up displays, Visteon featured a range of windshield solutions. These included systems with fields of views ranging from 4 degrees x 1.2 degrees to 8 degrees x 3 degrees with best-in-class optical systems, tilt and picture-generating unit (PGU) technologies. Also on display was an augmented reality solution which provides a digital layer of information to help improve safety, and which can be integrated into different ECUs.
Two years ago, at CES 2016, Delphi showcased a 3D instrument panel, with the technology housed behind the steering wheel of a Ford Mustang GT concept vehicle. The technology - developed in partnership with New-Zealand based firm Pure Depth - is a Multi-Layered Display (MLD) system designed to provide a true 3D display which not only reduced unwanted optical effects, but also increases safety by providing information in such a way that the driver can understand and process it quicker.
The 3D technology combines optical, imaging and software technology to provide high quality 2D and 3D technology. The platform is compatible with all existing content and includes a development environment for custom content. The design of the 3D experience is such that it negates headaches, eye strain and fatigue, has no ‘sweet spots’ often associated with 3D visuals, no cross-talk, and offers full resolution. This is achieved with two LCD panels, layered one in front of the other with a gap in-between.
A single backlight illuminates the display which gives the effect of the front layer appearing see-through, or translucent. There is also no ‘trade-off’ between 2D and 3D quality because in 2D mode only one of the imaging planes is used to display 2D content. In terms of safety the amount of time a driver needs to take their eyes off the road is reduced. This is because critical information can be offered to the driver’s peripheral vision quicker, and more complex information is easier for the driver to comprehend and translate. If the brain is able to process such information faster due to the means of delivery, this can also offer the benefit of quicker reaction times to important warnings and information.
Another big player in the display sector is Sharp, and the latest exhibition of the technology firms Free-Form Displays was in October 2017 at Ceatec Japan 2017. The concept of Sharp’s Free-Form Display was first introduced as far back as 2015. Built on the company’s IGZO technology, FFD enables displays to be cut into virtually any shape, thus opening up opportunities for automakers in terms of innovative design.
In 2017 Sharp showcased two displays - one horizontally-long and one circular - both expected to be used for instrument displays, and both TFT LCD displays using the IGZO oxide semiconductor technology. The size of the horizontal display is equivalent to 40 inches and was produced by connecting two horizontal displays measuring 23 inches each. Horizontal and vertical pixel counts are 8000 x 1000 respectively, and the upper left and right-hand corners of the unit are curved so as to fit comfortably into the design of instrument panels.
The circular display is expected to go into volume production by 2020, with the horizontal display slated for 2021 - by which time Sharp says it will be constructed of a single panel. The flexibility of design will be a vital tool for designers as they look to develop new and innovative shapes for autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles.
Automotive displays have come a long way in a short period of time, and the industry is set to explode over the next five years as the automotive industry as a whole progresses towards autonomous driving.
In the first instance such displays will be focussed on developing and improving HMI and providing information to the driver in a quick and easy format, designed to improve reaction time, decrease the time eyes are off the road, and make the vehicle environment one which supports transition between autonomous and manual driving modes. Innovations such as augmented reality and 3D displays should offer distinct improvements in this respect.
Looking further into the future, autonomous vehicles will free up the driver to concentrate on other tasks via in-vehicle displays. This will free up designers to produce ever more innovative and futuristic concepts which go beyond the cockpit and take in the whole car interior.