Electrifying Shift In Automotive Display Evolution

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The future of automotive displays depends on heads-up displays advancements, the promise of immersive 3D experiences, and the unexpected regions leading these groundbreaking innovations.

Automotive displays encompass the screens and interfaces within our vehicles. As cars continue to advance in intelligence and functionality, there is an increasing focus on improving these displays to provide a more immersive yet non-distracting experience for the driver. A prime example of innovation in this field is the heads-up display. This cutting-edge feature aims to replace traditional dashboards, prioritising road safety and keeping drivers’ attention undivided.

The field of automotive displays offers a captivating blend of technology and aesthetics. While these displays are prominently featured in passenger vehicles and large cargo vans, our examination primarily focuses on passenger and large commercial vehicles, excluding buses, trucks, and trains.

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Modern vehicles boast a variety of displays, each designed for specific functions. Cars typically come equipped with a dashboard display positioned for the driver’s convenience, paired with a central informational panel between the driver and the co-passenger. Such traditional configurations continue to dominate the majority of contemporary vehicles.

As autonomous driving becomes an impending reality, there is a noticeable shift in priorities. While safety remains paramount, enhancing the passenger’s experience has gained importance. With the transition from manual to autonomous vehicles, where every occupant becomes a passenger, entertainment takes centre stage. This shift prompts the industry to envision and develop expansive, interactive displays to elevate the passenger experience.

How does the rise of EVs impact the automotive display market?
The surge in electric vehicles (EVs) significantly influences the automotive display market. While displays are becoming a standard feature across all types of vehicles, from HUDs to side window displays and dashboard screens, there is a shared emphasis on reducing power consumption. The importance of energy efficiency extends beyond EVs and has gained increasing significance due to the rising adoption of EVs. Saving energy and promoting sustainability have become key trends in automotive display design.

Manufacturers strive to cater to a diverse market, spanning premium vehicles and more budget-friendly options. For lower-tier vehicles with tighter margins, cost-effective choices like LCDs are preferred, whereas premium vehicles might opt for technologies like OLEDs. Regardless of the type of vehicle, the common thread remains the focus on minimising power consumption, aligning with the broader shift toward sustainable mobility solutions.

India emerges as a country with boundless potential in this field. The remarkable progress observed in India’s automotive and manufacturing sectors reveals an exciting pathway for the evolution of vehicular displays. While many across the globe applaud the achievements of companies like Tata Motors in the expansive automotive industry, a wealth of opportunities exists in the display segment, awaiting India’s exploration. Given the progress in LCD technology and the anticipated transition to micro-LEDs, India’s burgeoning manufacturing infrastructure is well-suited to lead this revolution. Recognising this potential, our study incorporates India’s prospective contribution to the industry’s trajectory. India is not only a hub of manufacturing expertise but also on the cusp of pioneering breakthroughs, notably in domains like micro-LEDs. The horizon looks promising, with India poised to become a cornerstone in the evolution of automotive displays.

A recent conversation with Dr Miguel El Guendy, Technology Analyst at IDTechEx, provided profound insights into this dynamic landscape.

Key automotive display technologies

The realm of automotive displays is extensive and continually evolving, with two technologies, LCD and OLED, emerging as leaders in this domain. These technologies reign supreme in the automotive space and also have a significant presence in the broader display industry.

LCD dominance in vehicle displays

Liquid crystal display (LCD) presently stands as the most prevalent technology for automotive displays. Its dominance is rooted in several factors, with cost-effectiveness being the primary driver. LCD strikes a commendable balance between image quality and brightness, making it a suitable choice for many vehicles. LCD technology has matured, ensuring reliability and economic viability.

The vast supplier network for LCDs further solidifies its commanding position. Prominent names in the LCD market include Tianma, BOE, and AUO. These suppliers ensure competitive pricing and a wide range of features to cater to diverse automotive needs. Additionally, several others are ready to fill the gap if one supplier needs to meet a manufacturer’s specific requirements. This flexibility and availability make LCD the preferred choice for many automakers, especially those producing vehicles with tighter profit margins.

Elevating premium car displays with OLEDs

Organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) are another significant player in the automotive display sector, although they currently occupy a niche space. OLEDs are typically found in premium vehicles, primarily due to their higher cost. However, OLED’s superior contrast ratio sets it apart, arguably providing better image quality than LCDs.

Industry titans such as Samsung and LG Display take the lead in the OLED landscape. Both are renowned for their collaborations with premium vehicle manufacturers, emphasising the luxurious user experience that OLEDs can deliver. The richness of colours and the depth of blacks in OLED displays make them a preferred choice for high-end vehicles. Nevertheless, the cost factor acts as a deterrent for mass-market cars, where margins are slimmer, and the budget for components like displays is constrained.

A display revolution in automotive technology

The dynamic world of automotive displays is on the brink of another transformation. While LCDs and OLEDs have dominated the industry, a fresh player, microLEDs, is now entering the arena. These next-generation displays are poised to bring numerous benefits, offering superior performance compared to their current counterparts.

MicroLEDs enhance attributes like greater brightness and overall performance in comparison to LCDs and OLEDs. However, they are still in the early stages of commercial application. The primary challenges to their widespread adoption are their high cost and less-than-optimal yields. Given these challenges, it is unlikely we will witness a significant penetration of microLEDs into the market in the near future, possibly within the next few years.

Nevertheless, there is palpable excitement about what microLEDs can bring to the table. Their advantages extend beyond enhanced brightness and image quality; they are expected to provide substantial power savings, particularly when compared to LCDs. This feature alone could make them a game-changer in the energy-conscious automotive sector.

That said, the microLED industry is still in its growth phase. The ecosystem comprises specialist firms dedicated to microLED technology and larger, established display manufacturers. Collaborations are commonplace, with smaller microLED experts partnering with major display producers. The aim is to refine the technology, ramp up production, and eventually achieve economies of scale.

It is worth noting that incumbent technologies, such as LCDs, have had decades to mature, while OLEDs are approaching a level of maturity after being around for a significant amount of time. In contrast, microLEDs are still in their early stages. Yet, their potential is undeniable, and they are poised to play a pivotal role in redefining automotive displays.

The ultimate success of micro-LEDs depends on their technological maturity and significant cost reduction. As the technology evolves and prices drop, we may see microLEDs emerge as the new standard in automotive displays.

The automotive display ecosystem influences industries
Developing automotive displays involves various crucial components, and the selection may vary based on the display technology used. Here are the primary components integral to the creation of automotive displays:
Cover glass. Essential for protecting the display and optimising visibility while minimising glare and reflections. It must be durable and resilient to withstand various environmental conditions
Diffuser. Often used in LCDs to distribute light evenly across the screen, ensuring consistent brightness and colour uniformity
LCD technology. Liquid crystal display (LCD) technology is the foundation for many automotive displays, comprising layers of liquid crystals and polarizers to manipulate light for image generation
Backlight unit. Necessary for illuminating LCDs, with light emitting diodes (LEDs) being a common choice to provide the required illumination
Colour conversion film. A colour conversion film is applied in LCDs to achieve precise colour representation, contributing to vibrant and accurate visuals
Adhesives. Due to the demanding automotive environment, high-strength adhesives are crucial for securely bonding components, ensuring the display’s integrity under vibrations, temperature fluctuations, and exposure to harsh elements
Driver integrated circuits (ICs). These ICs are pivotal in coordinating and controlling display functions, guaranteeing smooth and efficient operation in synchronisation with the vehicle’s electronic systems
Glass moulding. Glass moulding processes are employed to shape and form glass components used in displays, requiring precision to achieve the desired optical properties
The evolution of automotive displays extends its influence across various sectors, from enhancing user experiences to creating new revenue streams for manufacturers and suppliers. As vehicles become more connected and sophisticated, the role of automotive displays in shaping the future of mobility cannot be overstated.

3D visualisation advances

In the constantly changing world of car screens, light field displays and computer-generated holography are the next big innovations bringing 3D views. These advancements challenge conventional two-dimensional displays, such as LCDs and OLEDs, and pave the way for immersive three-dimensional experiences.

Navigating depth in two dimensions

Light field displays, also known as spatial light field displays, are at the forefront of this revolution. Companies like Leia Inc in the US and Creal in Switzerland are pioneering this technology, which introduces multiple depths to a two-dimensional image. In simpler terms, imagine a screen with 4K pixels; the goal is to make it appear as though there are eight layers within an object. Spatial light field displays achieve this by distributing the pixels evenly among these layers. This allocation of screen resolution to each layer results in accurate depth perception. However, this division of pixels comes at a cost, leading to a reduction in overall resolution.

The motivation behind spatial light field displays is to mitigate the discomfort caused by vergence accommodation conflict, a perceptual challenge in virtual and augmented reality. This conflict arises when our brain perceives an object at one distance while our eyes are focused on a screen at a different distance. Spatial light field displays address this by providing more accurate depth perception, reducing motion sickness, and enhancing the overall experience. Despite being computationally intensive and power-hungry, spatial light field displays are making significant progress, particularly for consumer electronics and applications like vehicle panel side displays. Companies like Leia and FUTURUS are actively collaborating and developing light field displays for commercial use.

Reconstructing reality with precision

Computer-generated holography offers a distinct approach to three-dimensional visualisation. Unlike spatial light field displays, holography does not compromise on resolution. When you look at an object in the physical world, you perceive it due to how light reflects off it and reconstructs it in front of your eyes. Holography replicates this process by capturing the unique light reflection patterns and using a laser to project them, creating a lifelike three-dimensional image.

This method provides genuine depth perception, making it an attractive choice for various applications, including heads-up displays. Holographic displays can deliver bright, true, three-dimensional visuals, enhancing drivers’ understanding of their surroundings. However, holography is computationally intensive, consumes significant power, and currently needs to improve image quality compared to other alternatives.

Regarding heads-up displays, spatial light field displays and holography are under consideration. However, the choice between the two depends on the specific application and requirements. Light field displays are advancing more rapidly for consumer electronics and panel side displays while promising holography might take a bit longer to mature, especially for commercial use.

Vision beyond the dashboard

The automotive world is currently undergoing a fascinating evolution in dashboard displays and heads-up displays (HUDs). Although these two technologies coexist, a transformative shift is on the horizon.

Dashboard displays and HUDs are distinct elements within a vehicle’s user interface. However, the future of automotive displays holds the potential for a significant transformation. While dashboard displays might eventually become obsolete, the road to this scenario is marked by various adaptations and challenges.

HUDs is a particularly intriguing development. Positioned ahead of the driver and projected onto the windshield, the HUDs are paving the way for future augmented reality (AR) displays. Their primary intent is to significantly reduce distractions. In current setups, drivers often divert their gaze to interact with GPS, adjust the radio, or manage phone calls, usually on the side panel. The HUDs aim to curtail this by providing a translucent display that allows the driver to access necessary information without shifting their focus from the road. Such distractions have been responsible for numerous accidents, endangering not just the vehicle’s occupants but also pedestrians and other road users.

The concept of a future where the traditional dashboard display is replaced entirely by a heads-up display is intriguing. Imagine a scenario where HUDs prove so successful that they can replicate and surpass everything the dashboard display offers. HUDs make this advancement possible by projecting translucent images that provide a superior user experience. In the future, drivers might no longer require the conventional dashboard display. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that we are not yet at that point. There are ongoing adaptations in the automotive industry, and the coexistence of dashboard displays and HUDs is a testament to the transitional phase.

One significant challenge facing HUDs is their performance under varying lighting conditions. Bright outdoor environments, for example, can make it difficult to see information displayed on screens, similar to the struggle we encounter when viewing our smartphones on sunny days. The effectiveness of HUDs heavily relies on their ability to combat issues related to incident light, ensuring that crucial information remains visible to the driver.

HUDs themselves can employ different technologies, such as holography and LCDs. Holographic HUDs are known for their exceptional brightness, which can mitigate visibility problems caused by intense ambient light. On the other hand, LCD-based HUDs may need help delivering clear visuals under extremely bright conditions, making them less favourable in specific scenarios.

The automotive display industry is transforming remarkably, driven by technological advancements and the pursuit of safer and more immersive driving experiences. From the dominance of LCD and OLED technologies to the promising emergence of microLEDs, the future of automotive displays looks brighter than ever. The development of light field displays and computer-generated holography introduces the possibility of three-dimensional realms within vehicles, redefining how we interact with in-car displays. Given its manufacturing capabilities and expertise in micro-LEDs, India’s potential contribution to this evolving landscape is undeniable.

The competition between traditional dashboard displays and the HUDs hints at a future where HUDs might replace conventional dashboards, provided they can address challenges related to visibility in varying lighting conditions. As the automotive display industry continues to evolve, it promises to deliver safer, more engaging, and technologically advanced driving experiences for all. Moreover, the industry’s trajectory points toward larger automotive displays, a global trend that enhances the driving experience and increases revenue, reaffirming the exciting future of automotive displays.

The author, Dr Miguel El Guendy, is a Technology Analyst at IDTechEx specialising in automotive displays. He has completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge where he specialised in the use of holographic displays in augmented reality. He also holds an MRes degree in Photonic Engineering from the University of Cambridge.

The co-author, Nidhi Agarwal, works as Technology Journalist at EFY.

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