If you appreciate uncluttered, simple car dashboards, then it will come as welcome news that buttons are gradually disappearing in favour of multi-functional touchscreens. Tomorrow's cars are expected to incorporate a virtual dashboard with curved screens designed using organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology. This month's research snapshot takes a closer look at OLEDs used for car information displays.

An OLED is an LED where the light is produced by organic molecules. Compared to traditional liquid crystal displays (LCDs) used for car displays, OLEDs are more flexible and can operate without a backlight (hence thinner) thereby paving the way for new cockpit applications. Yet the number of automakers using OLEDs is still rare and limited to the high-end of the market. For example, the Lexus RX features an OLED display instead of a thin film transistor (TFT-LCD) display. 

Future OLED applications

Tesla is said to be discussing OLED applications with LG Electronics while Mercedes-Benz is reported to have plans to use OLED displays for a future E-Class model.

Tomorrow's cockpits will feature more screens with haptic feedback, according to an interior mock-up presented at the consumer electronics show (CES) earlier this year by Audi. The automaker's e-tron Quattro four-seater concept features a virtual dashboard with curved screens designed using OLED technology.

Audi's showcase included an interior model demonstrating an HMI (human-machine interface) concept that features large AMOLED (Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode) displays with integrated haptic feedback. The new type of MMI control with "MMI touch response" recognises familiar touch gestures from the consumer electronics world and adapts them to the special operating environment in the car.

How well do you really know your competitors?

Access the most comprehensive Company Profiles on the market, powered by GlobalData. Save hours of research. Gain competitive edge.

Company Profile – free sample

Thank you!

Your download email will arrive shortly

Not ready to buy yet? Download a free sample

We are confident about the unique quality of our Company Profiles. However, we want you to make the most beneficial decision for your business, so we offer a free sample that you can download by submitting the below form

By GlobalData
Visit our Privacy Policy for more information about our services, how we may use, process and share your personal data, including information of your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications. Our services are intended for corporate subscribers and you warrant that the email address submitted is your corporate email address.

Although Audi declines to say which production model will be fitted first with such OLED technology, it has said that the next A8 to be launched next year will use standard LED and LCD screens as opposed to the OLEDs featured on the concept. "The OLED technology will not be coming yet," said Audi electronics expert Andreas Lamprecht during interview with Autocar. "The temperature resistance and lifecycle of the screens are not yet at Audi's standards. It will take a couple of years."

For its part, Magneti Marelli used the last CES to set out its latest generation of instrument panel, specifically a curved AMOLED passenger display with wireless charging, gesture control, and near field communication (NFC) to customise the use interface.

Meanwhile, the Cadillac Escala Concept debuted in California last month with an array of three curved OLED screens in the cockpit. The very thin, curved displays are layered in front of the driver. The screens, developed with technology specialist LG Electronics, consolidate the traditional cluster of driving gauges with the centre stack into one integrated unit. Cadillac has not yet indicated which car models will be first to feature the OLED screens.

Other car concepts using OLED displays include the Porsche Mission E and Audi Prologue.

OLED displays under development

Visteon is also among those suppliers pushing back the technical boundaries of in-car information displays. As the industry trend is moving toward curved displays, gesture and haptic feedback, Visteon claims itself as a leader in differentiating display technologies, including 3-D, OLED and Optical Bonding. The supplier used the Beijing motor show last May to present some high-end, reconfigurable clusters with rich 3-D graphics and large displays with touch sensors that are changing the user experience for drivers and passengers. Its showcase included a dual OLED display, illustrating a HMI approach for devices brought into the car, such as smartphones or tablets, which allows automakers to retain their HMI solutions.

Visteon reports that advancements in OLED technology, high-resolution imaging and clever peripherals that integrate filters, touch controls and haptic feedback are revolutionising in-vehicle information display screens, not only for drivers but for passengers up front and in the back seat as well.

"[Our dual view display] ultimately can become a triple view display," said Doug Pfau, Visteon Displays Technical Sales Manager. "It allows the driver, the front seat passenger and a passenger in the centre of the second row to each see a different image or video, all on the same screen. This multi-view display appears on a screen with a horizontal resolution of 2,880 pixels, which is more than twice that of HD. … The driver may see only a navigation screen while the front passenger watches a movie and the rear passenger [for example, in a taxi] sees a video advertisement. Images and/or video from multiple sources are fed into the electronics, which unweave and reweave the images to display them via the appropriate set of pixels."

Other automotive interior display developments

Other car interior display innovations that caught our eye recently included one from Lexus. The luxury carmaker's UX Concept, that is making its debut at this week's Paris motor show, incorporates a hologram-style globe display that appears to float behind the steering wheel thereby replacing the traditional dials.

Lexus has also swapped the wing mirrors for rear-facing cameras on the UX. Indeed, one reason why tomorrow's car interiors could see more OLED screens is the gradual disappearance of the exterior rearview mirror. Given that wing mirrors add weight, cost and wind resistance to the car, it is easy to see why automakers wish to eliminate them thereby creating a sleeker look. As suppliers anticipate a change to mirror regulations ('mirrorless cars' were made street legal in Japan last June), many are developing mirrorless systems using vehicle-mounted cameras and dashboard monitors.

With future trends pointing to the elimination of wing mirrors and the addition of screens, such black rectangles can dominate the look and feel a car's interior. It has even been disputed as appearing a little dated; the opposite of a luxury interior designer's objective. To some extent, flexible OLED displays that blend into the interior can help. A balance therefore needs to be struck. Greater use of projecting driver information onto head-up displays and augmented reality windscreens would further reduce dashboard screens.

And finally, a start-up in Silicon Valley is researching the use of emoji-like images as a robotic response to the horns, waves and gestures exchanged between today's drivers. Formed last year by a group of Stanford University graduates, Drive.ai has attracted millions of dollars in venture capital to push back the technical boundaries of machine learning and the ways in which autonomous vehicles communicate with others on the road. It has also been given permission by the Californian authorities to test autonomous cars fitted with digital roof signage. While the system under test does not make a sound, the display shows text and pictures to let other road users aware of the driverless car's intentions.  

See also: Global light vehicle instrumentation and cockpits market – forecasts to 2031