Macro trends in automotive drive demand for conformed and shaped displays

Simon Jones, Commercial Director

October 10, 2016

Attending the SID Vehicle Displays event in Detroit recently brought home to me just how much change is coming to the auto industry.

Almost all of the key trends, including seamless integration with consumer devices and increased driving automation, will have a fundamental impact on the design of the vehicle Human Machine Interface (HMI). The increased potential for driver distraction in a semi-automated and fully connected car will demand a much more holistic approach to HMI design to address safety and usability concerns.

Future cars will need more and larger displays

Increasing vehicle safety

Multiple sensors and cameras around the car can now warn the driver of hazards on the road, which if well implemented in the HMI could greatly increase safety. A great example is the ‘invisible A-pillar’ described by Jaguar Land Rover. This concept, which relies on a conformed display, clearly shows how road hazard information that comes from the direction of the hazard will allow the driver to respond more intuitively than if the warning came from, for example, the instrument panel. Similarly, there are advantages to replacing door mirrors with a wide angle camera and a display, and the natural location for the mirror replacement display is also a conformed display on the A-pillar.

These are two examples of why the location of the display is critical to the HMI design and why displays will start to appear beyond the instrument panel and the centre console. These displays will typically need to conform naturally to the curved surfaces of the car and be ‘hidden-until-lit’, that is they disappear when not displaying information. Often they will need to be non-rectangular as well as non-flat. Plastic displays will be preferred over glass-based displays because they can conform to tighter curves and avoid crash safety issues with glass.

User preferences for touch displays

Another driver for increased use of displays is very strong user preference. At the SID event, Brian Rhodes of IHS Markit described research that showed that users prefer touch screens over all other forms of input. In contrast, physical buttons are almost the least popular input device and so it is no surprise that buttons are fast disappearing in favour of touch displays. This is another key motivation for the spread of conformed touch displays around the car.

Looking further into the future, we can Imagine a car interior where there is a touch display everywhere that there is a physical button today. Every aspect of the HMI would then become highly personalisable, upgradable and reconfigurable according to the ‘app’ being used. Personal customisation of the HMI and even the ambience of the interior will be possible (this will become increasingly important as ‘shared mobility’ models lead to each car being used by more people on average).

More and larger displays needed

Rapidly increasing unit volumes and larger sizes of displays in vehicles is already happening. At the SID event, we heard that the display area per car is currently growing at 25% per year. The IHS Markit forecast identified a particular growth hot spot which is 7” to 8” displays in the centre stack and instrument cluster which will account for more than 60 million units p.a. in 2020. A-pillar displays, steering wheel displays, head-liner displays and many other new display applications in the car represent, in our view, a significant upside on the existing market forecasts.

Does the advent of self-driving cars make this all less important? We do not believe so for two reasons. Firstly, the industry expects that partially self-driving cars will be prevalent for a long time before we have cars that can self-drive in all circumstances. This means that the HMI has the additional task of managing the handover of responsibility between the car and the driver with obvious safety implications. Secondly, even a fully self-driving car will have an extensive HMI to address the entertainment, information and communication needs of the passengers. This creates a similar motivation to use the curved surfaces of the interior to implement an extensive, seamless and customisable HMI.

Building on established supply chains

In a previous blog I described how FlexEnable’s organic LCD (OLCD) glass-free display technology is a unique and compelling technology choice for conformed and shaped displays in vehicles. FlexEnable’s OLCD process is designed so that existing LCD fabs that are already producing automotive displays on glass can be upgraded to make OLCD displays on plastic. This provides the lowest cost flexible display solution whilst avoiding the lifetime and brightness limitations of flexible OLED.

All of this means that disruptive change in the vehicle HMI is coming, however it does not have to come with disruptive change in the established supply chain for automotive displays.

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