Automotive displays, lighting, and sensing: a market expected to reach almost US$23 billion in 2025

For several years now, the CASE acronym has been driving the automotive industry. It refers to: “Connected” cars, “Autonomous/Automated” driving, “Shared” and “Electric”. Along these four axes of development, it seems that two are focusing on the user experience (UX), and how to improve comfort, interaction, and safety inside cars. This will be achieved with the development of three main in-cabin features: displays, lighting, and sensing.

The expected proliferation of in-cabin displays

Displays have replaced analog instruments, and in the past decades Yole has seen an increase in both the number and size of displays used in cars. Nowadays, several different approaches are taken by OEMs. The display shape, layout and functionalities are all part of a car manufacturer’s differentiation. So, Yole sees transparent displays, heads-up displays (HUDs), haptic feedback, conformable screens that adopt all kinds of shapes and forms, smart surfaces, and even holographic displays. From an average of two displays in cars a few years back, eight displays are expected in the near future: clusters, infotainment, mirrors, transparent window displays and HUDs. As the level of autonomous driving increases from Level 2 to 3, 4 and 5, the function, size, number, and position of the displays will evolve. The multiplication of large, infotainment displays will only really be justified after the adoption of ADAS level 3 and above. In practice, due to cost and complexity, most of the futuristic concepts demonstrated at trade shows will be limited to high-end vehicles used for long haul traveling.

Yole’s analysts note two different display approaches: traditional direct-view displays that the industry is mostly used to, and projection displays that should allow for HUDs, window displays and so on. The direct-view approach is for the most part based on liquid crystal displays (LCDs). In the general consumer electronics segment, organic light-emitting displays (OLEDs) have been gaining more and more share, even dominating in some segments (e.g. smartphones), but this technology has a hard time addressing the stringent requirements of the automotive environment. OLEDs can deliver on contrast, but brightness and reliability prove to be difficult, so the penetration of this technology is close to non-existent. Efforts are still being pursued though because OLED would allow for virtually any shape or form to be adopted, allowing for a perfect design-based integration within automotive interiors, further enhancing the possibilities of differentiation for OEMs. LCDs have been improving on that front though, as now curved backplanes based on organic technology are allowing for enhanced cockpit integration and are being provided by panel manufacturers. But development and integration are not as advanced as for OLED. And while OLED tries to improve on reliability and brightness, LCD – while improving on shape and form factor – is further enhancing its performance in terms of reliability and contrast, thanks to the use of dual cell approaches, or miniLEDs.

But a newer technology is right around the corner and promises to provide the best of both worlds in the automotive sector: microLEDs. As a self-emissive technology, microLED retains all the benefits of OLED but could exceed it in various aspects, including color gamut, brightness, ruggedness, and so on. Automakers are already showing interest in this. Panel makers and most startups involved in microLED development have made automotive an important, if not cornerstone, market of their strategy. Some technical challenges remain however, and Yole’s analysts believe that adoption will take time. Indeed, microLED development is not advanced enough, and unlike miniLED based LCDs, microLEDs represent a new technology. But this is also a technology that could enable some new opportunities in projection-based displays, allowing for an improved experience with HUDs, though the display technology to be used in this context is not the only challenge: optics developments, through the use of holographic optical elements, will be key.

According to the Automotive Interior – From Lighting, Sensing to Display Technologies 2020 report from Yole Développement (Yole): What is certain is that the efforts toward display integration in cars will continue, as the market opportunity they represent is enormous. Yole expects it to grow from US$9.7 billion in 2020 to US$15.5 billion in 2025 at a CAGR of 10%. By 2025, the LCD-based direct-view display segment is still expected to represent 98.7% of the market. But while it is purely LCD in 2020, Yole believes that by 2025 more than 20% of LCD-based displays will actually be using an alternative to pure LCD: either dual cells or miniLED-based backlights. And the industry will also see the very first microLED-based displays by that time. As for HUDs, Yole’s team expects the augmented reality focused HUDs to grow at a 115% CAGR, as they are a key part in improving driver experience in the C.A.S.E. context.

Increasing possibilities with interior lighting

The recently released new car cockpits have shown that interior lighting follows the C.A.S.E. paradigm. That means the lighting has become meaningful. The interior lighting has evolved from functional applications to today’s full-color ambient lighting providing an indirect illumination that allows passengers better orientation and sense of spaciousness. Moreover, the first safety functionality – blind spot warning – has appeared using ambient lighting this year. There is a big interest in linking the lighting and display technologies with ADAS thus providing an interface to display alerts coming from the driving situation.

Interior lighting has several attributes that characterize the car segment and that are driving innovation. Regarding functionality, the new generation of reading (map) lamps enable good isolation to prevent glare, allows adjustment of the light beam and possibility of remote control. The ambient lights can create a pleasant atmosphere and thus increase comfort. They can provide different colors as well as hues of white light. Furthermore, the indirect ambiance lights can be used for strengthening the visuals of many interior details and even bring the light into the fabrics. All these distinguishable applications can enhance recognition of the car’s brand and highlight differences. For the user, they create new options to personalize the vehicle.

This was not possible in the past when halogen bulbs were relatively big, providing only single static lighting functions. Development of new full color and tunable LEDs, dedicated optics, electric and electronic systems, central control management protocols LIN and CAN have all contributed to increase the value of interior applications. Following the digitalization trend, smart RGB LED packages integrating a driver IC have been developed to allow for control of each package individually. Latest developments based on a smart package embedding LED controller and RGB chips eliminate the need for look-up tables and calibration data. The technology evolution brings device miniaturization, low power consumption and higher reliability as well as improved thermal management. Due to all these aspects interior designers can envision and create new experiences in future cockpits.

The automotive industry faces strong cost pressure and requires strict quality standards for technology, production, and testing. Modern interior lighting requires, therefore, a system architecture that is financially viable, highly controllable, and inherently reliable.

Automotive interior lighting is a small lighting segment. Therefore, many small Tier-2 players are involved in overcoming various technology challenges concerning application design as well as LEDs and electronics. The lighting system is becoming more and more embedded into the interior parts, thus requiring new approaches in manufacturing that are challenging for traditional Tier-1 interior players. As the automotive cockpit is in the spotlight in the context of automated driving, the Tier-1 lighting players partner with the Tier-1 interior developers to bring complex solutions and reduce the price tag of the whole system. The future of interior lighting will be considered as a deeply integrated system technology in a cockpit interior providing clean modern designs and styles.

In-cabin sensing: driver monitoring is only the tip of the iceberg

Several in-cabin sensing applications can be found in automotive. The main applications are driver monitoring, occupant monitoring, gesture recognition, active noise cancellation, and particle monitoring. Most of these applications are not new in the automotive ecosystem and some of them have already been implemented by OEMs.

By 2022 in Europe and 2024 in the United States, driver monitoring systems are expected to become mandatory. Driver monitoring systems (DMS) will also be necessary for advanced automated driving features, to take control from and return it to the driver. They will also avoid misuses of such functions such as users misuse of the autopilot feature in some modern vehicles. As we move toward more advanced levels of autonomy, the needs of the driver and need to monitor the car’s environment have been pushing the boundaries, bringing us more advanced interior designs.

Occupant monitoring systems are quite similar to DMS and the same technology can be used. However, as there is no need to monitor the driver’s eyes, radar technology can also be implemented. The technology has started to enter Tier-1 development plans, as OEMs are likely to take this opportunity to remove seat pressure sensors and add an occupant health monitoring feature. Automated seat setting might also be a target feature. It is expected that radar sensing will have a significant share of the market.

Besides these two main applications, others will penetrate the market differently. Gesture recognition systems like those already implemented by BMW allow the recognition of multiple gestures. The technology used Time-of-Flight (ToF) cameras in combination with IR illumination, but in order to control the infotainment the driver’s hands needed to be removed from the driving wheel. The gesture recognition is also not always reliable leading to unwanted reactions by the system. Since the first implementation in 2015, this feature has been poorly adopted by other OEMs and is in competition with voice control which is much more prevalent in new cars.

Driver comfort is becoming crucial for car makers and therefore two applications could become important soon: particle monitoring and active noise cancellation (ANC). Particle monitoring is used to detect particles smaller than 2.5µm (PM 2.5) inside the cabin. The degradation of indoor air quality can be related to interior air emissions  from interior materials, or from exhaust gas or pollutants from exterior sources entering the vehicle cabin. The use of a particle monitoring sensor is combined with the HVAC to force air circulation inside the vehicle and improve air quality. ANC is not new, but with the emergence of electric vehicles the noise generated by the powertrain, the road, or the wind can become tiresome for the driver and passengers. At the same time, the driver is evolving from being active to being increasingly passive and becoming finally a passenger. Unwanted noise sources will have to be eliminated to create a living room-type ambiance.

In this context, the market for DMS, OMS and PM 2.5 is expected to grow from US$233 million in 2020 to US$2,647 million in 2025 at a CAGR of 63%. The high CAGR attests to the growing importance of in-cabin sensing for safety and comfort. The market will be driven by DMS with the regulations that will make this feature mandatory. At the same time there is still a lot of R&D, and some sensors related to odor recognition are also being developed. They can be used to detect alcohol level in air and can also be used by ride-hailing companies to determine when a car needs to be serviced.

How the importance of the user experience impacts the in-cabin E/E architecture

As with the smartphone or other digital companion, drivers expect maximum connectivity, personalization, and intuitive handling of their vehicle. Vehicle manufacturers have to offer appropriate solutions for different markets and vehicle segments and at the same time provide maximum flexibility at low cost. This will be achieved by the implementation of domain controllers to replace multiple electronic control units (ECUs). At present, up to fifteen ECUs steer and regulate the different displays and other electronic cockpit functions in production vehicles. These can be replaced by one domain controller. This consolidation has started to be observed for ADAS application with the development of the zFAS controller by Audi, and in Tesla cars. Now that interior applications are becoming more complex and the user experience is increasingly important, domain controllers will have to be implemented as well.

This article was written for Automobil Elektronik.

About the author

As a member of the Photonics, Sensing & Display division at Yole Développement (Yole), Pierrick Boulay works as Market and Technology Analyst in the fields of Solid-State Lighting and Lighting Systems to carry out technical, economic, and marketing analyses. Pierrick has authored several reports and custom analyses dedicated to topics such as general lighting, automotive lighting, LiDAR, IR LEDs, UV LEDs and VCSELs. Prior to Yole, Pierrick has worked in several companies where he developed his knowledge on general lighting and on automotive lighting. In the past, he has mostly worked in R&D departments on LED lighting applications. Pierrick holds a master’s degree in Electronics (ESEO – Angers, France).

This article was written in collaboration with Martin Vallo, Technology & Market Analyst, Solid-state Lighting and Zine Bouhamri, Team Lead Analyst, Imaging from Yole Développement (Yole).

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