Guest Editorial

Automotive Displays at the Dawn of Autonomous Driving Automotive Displays at the Dawn of Autonomous Driving

Automotive Displays at the Dawn of Autonomous Driving

By Karlheinz Blankenbach

“From zero to hero” – could this stand for the number of displays and pixels in autonomous cars of the future? Not too many years ago, there were hardly any electronic displays in cars at all. Today’s cars, even intermediate models, are equipped with at least two graphics displays. And as we will see, that number is about to expand greatly.

Level 2 autonomous driving as available today requires permanent supervision with only temporary “hands off” the steering wheel. This will evolve in the next decade to “eyes off” driving (Levels 3 and 4) for defined-use cases. In Levels 3 and 4, the driver need not permanently monitor the environment; however, he or she has to take control on being notified by the system. This provides a lot of free time for “drivers.” Consequently, cars will evolve to mobile living rooms and/or offices used for leisure as well as work. Prototypes of large dashboard displays stretching from pillar to pillar have already been presented in various show cars. This setup will raise the number of pixels in a car significantly. A Level 5 car, in which the driver effectively becomes a passenger, will generally be even more of a mobile living or working space, with more displays.

Admittedly, an exception to the rule of higher levels = more displays is possible. At Level 5, a robot car with autonomous-driving capabilities in a shared-economy approach could even drive a five-year-old child to kindergarten. Such a car would have no steering wheel or pedals for driving. One could argue that displays are not strictly required in such a scenario. Passengers could simply bring their own smartphones or other display devices and use them to unlock the robot car, set the destination, and check out when leaving the car. It might be reasonable, however, to have a small touch display built in for fundamental interaction with the driverless shared car. Otherwise, we can safely assume that displays will continue to increase as the levels advance.

Pixel Proliferation

In the age of autonomous driving, significantly more time (hours) can be spent by the “driver” watching displays than today (seconds while driving). As previously mentioned, a clear trend in show cars is a huge dashboard display. These generally span from left to right with a height of about 10 to 20 inches. This increase in size will result in 20 or more megapixels at 200 ppi. The display will dominate the front interior design. Advanced human-machine interfaces (HMIs) using these displays will evolve from functional to emotional, using holistic approaches, and will certainly differentiate brands.

Augmented-reality head-up displays (AR-HUDs) will be another factor in the increase of displays and pixels. This technology will increase safety for manual driving and build trust in autonomous scenarios by depicting what the advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) sensors have detected and what the car is going to do. It will do this by highlighting lanes for wayfinding and displaying traffic signs, pedestrians, crossings, and so forth, and displaying them as overlays of the real scene. Such technology, however, requires a field of view (FOV) that is significantly higher than that of today’s HUDs (up to 12° by 3°). Even 40° (H) by 20° (V) would provide augmented-reality capability covering major traffic scenarios but not objects at close distances.

Without doubt, in the future, cars ranging from intermediate to luxury will incorporate a wide range of display sizes, from 1 to 100 inches. For private, fully automated cars, turnable seats will be standard and displays are likely to appear in places like door panels, behind the back seat, and integrated in tables (or armrests). This will add the equivalent of 2 to 4 UHD-equivalent (8 megapixel) displays. Premium, fully automated private cars will end up with approximately 100 megapixels in displays, which is 20× more than today’s high-end cars with rear-seat entertainment. This will have a huge impact on computing and graphics power as well as data rates for video interfaces. Factor in all the algorithms for autonomous operation, and cars will evolve toward supercomputers on wheels.

We are pleased to have several articles in this issue of Information Display that spotlight selected topics in automotive displays. These include “Dynamic Backlights for Automotive LCDs” by authors from the University of Saarland and “Performance Optimization for In-Vehicle Displays” from the experts at Continental Automotive GmbH. Also featured is an interview with Rashmi Rao, senior director, advanced engineering and user experience, for the Connected Car Division at Harman, in which she talks about materials and overall trends for automotive displays.

Enjoy reading these articles. I hope you were able to attend some of the special automotive display sessions at the 2018 Display Week Symposium and the joint SID/DSCC Automotive Display Market Focus Conference or see some of the numerous demos on the show floor in Los Angeles last May. If not, you can always read my article on automotive display highlights from Display Week 2018 in the next issue of this magazine.


Professor Dr. Karlheinz Blankenbach has been involved with displays since 1990 and has conducted numerous projects related to displays (many with the automotive industry) at Pforzheim University, where he has been a full professor since 1995. He is vice chair of the SID technical symposium subcommittee for automotive/vehicular displays and HMI technologies and a member of the International Committee for Display Metrology (ICDM).