With the megatrends of connected, autonomous, shared and electrified mobility gaining momentum with every passing day, vehicles interiors too are undergoing significant changes. Human Machine Interface (HMI), the function that allows the driver to connect and collaborate with the automated systems in a vehicle in a safe manner, is one such area that is witnessing major developments. Hanover-headquartered Continental is one company that is leading innovations in this area. Auto Tech Review recently met up with Dr Frank Rabe, Executive Vice President – Instrumentation & Driver HMI within the Interior Division, Continental AG, to understand more on this subject.
The foremost objective within Continental’s Instrumentation & Driver HMI business unit is to ensure all relevant data is presented in a form that doesn’t overwhelm the driver. This was the primary drive behind Continental’s work around developing holistic connectivity. It is a system that consists of interlinked hardware and software components that thereby enables visible and invisible services, states a company-issued release.
It is context dependent, Dr Rabe further explained, saying the driver and passengers should only see what they need, and where they need. Take for example an Augmented Reality Head-up Display (AR-HUD), which shows information exactly where you need it. AR-HUD could likely become a key enabler for the acceptance of higher levels of automation, as it would be possible to augment the reality indicating the next move the car will make, or that it has identified the next obstacle on the road.
Low alertness levels among drivers is considered to be one of the primary causes of road accidents globally. Driver distraction is a key focus area for Continental, and Dr Rabe feels it is getting worse with the displays getting larger. The problem will have to be solved by ensuring the driver has lesser need to look at the displays, he argued.
FUTURE TECH TRENDS
Larger displays and more content is pretty much the trend in all markets, except for a few selected markets like India. Being a price sensitive market, the Indian industry develops everything from the low-end. The instrument cluster, for instance, is analogue and has segmented displays, unlike many markets that demand digital clusters. However, Dr Rabe is confident this trend would change. Car buyers are getting younger, and larger displays go with their lifestyle. They all have smartphones, and they all want this somehow represented in their cars, he said. It might be difficult to predict when, but larger displays will come to the Indian market for sure, he said.
There are innovations around larger, curved or flexible screens designed using OLED or QLED technologies. Continental had a cooperation with LG, with an aim to drive up the life of the OLED technology to make it suitable for automotive use. Dr Rabe is happy they have been able to develop the technology to an acceptable level of approximately 8,000-10,000 hr. At this level, he is confident the technology can compensate for the degradation OLEDs go through.
There are, however, two issues; one is price and the other is that Continental is the single supplier for that technology in the automotive market. That isn’t a great position to be from a customers’ perspective. There are chances that the OLED technology will never make it to the automotive market, he said.
Interestingly though, the company seems to have found another application for OLED in an automobile. Continental recently announced development of a Virtual A-Pillar to help remove forward blind spots – making wide A-pillars virtually see-through. To meet mandatory safety regulations, manufacturers have been widening the A-pillars on their cars. Continental’s Virtual A-Pillar, with new flexible OLED displays and advanced head tracking, is claimed to enhance the driver’s view of his surroundings, aiding safety. Staying with displays, we asked Dr Rabe about the future of curved displays. He believes curved displays will become a reality even without OLED.
From a future perspective, users are likely to demand digital clusters as against analogue clusters, larger displays and touch functionality. Inside the vehicle, Rabe said, we would see integration of sensors, domain controllers and eventually, server architecture. Domain controllers combine functions of a particular domain. For example, an interior domain controller could combine functions of the cluster, infotainment, HUD, etc. This domain architecture could be in market in the next three years.
The next big thing, Rabe pointed out, is server architecture. Under domain controllers, sensors are connected to one of the domain computers. With server architecture, all servers can access information from all sensors and actuators. This offers full flexibility, he said. Server architecture would allow load balancing.
In certain situations in a fully automated mode, you might need more processing power. When you don’t need all that processing power, you can let go and reallocate that power to some other function, explained Dr Rabe. This is absolute cutting-edge technology, and Continental is in the very early stages of development. As one can expect, this is starting from the high end of the vehicle spectrum.
One other exciting new development within Dr Rabe’s domain is that of morphing controls. The 3D-operating elements only become visible as needed. Morphing controls allow one to hide all that the driver doesn’t need at that point in time. The company has used proximity sensors, force sensing, and tactile feedback to develop this technology, which is likely to fully mature and be market-ready by 2023.
Continental has always been at the forefront of innovation, and developments like the ones discussed above only reaffirm its readiness to deal with future challenges and opportunities.
TEXT: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah