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CES – Visteon CTO on the fast-growing cockpit domain controller segment

By Matthew Beecham | 9 January 2020

Markus Schupfner

Markus Schupfner

Visteon is focused on the development and production of a full line of cockpit electronics, including audio/infotainment systems. Its range of infotainment solutions includes the Phoenix audio display and embedded infotainment platform and Android-embedded open-source infotainment systems. Increasingly, the company is focused on developing connected car and assisted and autonomous driving systems. Its key growth product is the SmartCore domain controller and the DriveCore autonomous driving controller. To learn more, we caught up with Markus Schupfner, chief technology officer, Visteon at the CES this week.

Could you tell us a little about the technology highlights of your showcase here at the CES?

This year we are focusing on four core areas: Driver information (clusters and displays), infotainment, SmartCore (cockpit domain controllers), and DriveCore (safety domain controllers).

Also during CES, Visteon has introduced its new microZone high brightness and contrast display offering to accelerate the digital cockpit experience. microZone is a modular, reconfigurable, sustainable display technology that delivers the image richness of both OLED and LCD at a fraction of the cost.

At CES 2020, Visteon is demonstrating the interplay between its SmartCore and DriveCore controllers.

In addition to showcasing its high-performance multi-modal displays, all-digital clusters and fully-scalable Android infotainment solutions at CES 2020, Visteon will also demonstrate the interplay between its SmartCore and DriveCore controllers. These cockpit innovations include driver monitoring and establish a consistent human-machine interaction (HMI) experience between driver and car. Importantly, Visteon cockpit innovations also offer the driver the peace of mind of knowing that their autonomous vehicle is functioning safely.

For autonomous driving we will demonstrate the next stage of our DriveCore hardware combined with an enriched tool set for algorithm development, which we use with our partners to develop the technology.

Chinese tastes are increasingly influencing the design of cars driven not just in China, but around the world. How do you see that influencing the cockpit?

In the Chinese market, the interior styling and technology capabilities are the most influential aspects of the vehicle when it comes to consumers making a purchasing decision. While most prevalent in China, this trend is becoming more ubiquitous across all markets. Specific aspects include personal assistant, driver monitoring and seamless interaction with cockpit interfaces for all passengers. This will also be part of the properties we are showcasing at CES.

How do you see electric vehicles influencing the design of the cockpit area?

Electrical vehicles (EVs) provide a great opportunity to develop the whole electrical architecture from scratch. As most of the time the development of EVs are not based on legacy architecture, many automakers favour enabling a completely new approach and direction. This approach is based on centralized computing units for cockpit and autonomous driving, zonal gateways around the peripherals which are interconnected by time sensitive networks (TSN) and gigabit Ethernet. This way many advantages can be achieved – decreasing of cabling and costs, standardization of electronic control units (ECUs) and zonal gateways, high speed data transfer, and centralized fusion of sensor data, which leads to seamless interaction between cockpit and autonomous driving.

Presumably using eyes, voice and hand gestures, it is possible to eliminate buttons from an infotainment system. What is your vision of this touch-free user experience?

A well designed UX will narrow the space between input and output.

Ultimately, the goal of the user experience (UX) as a design discipline is to create an experience which end-users find intuitive and, eventually, second nature. A well designed UX will narrow the space between input and output. Users get frustrated when they don't know how to interact with a system, and may describe it as "buggy" or hard to use. Our vision and intention is to generate a user interaction where the cockpit adapts to the driver and passengers instead of driver and passengers needing to adapt to the cockpit. This will be made possible by using interior and exterior sensing, intelligent assistant and integrating artificial intelligence (AI) technology into the cockpit. In addition, deploying alternative input modalities like gaze detection, gesture and proximity and robust voice agents with careful thought to the human interaction can add value to the overall UX.

I guess there is a balance to be struck between using a touchscreen and physical buttons and dials. What is consumer research telling about what people want?

The first generation of button-free cockpits is now history. What we have learned is that some interactions really benefit from a rotary dial interaction. Consumers get annoyed by searching through a menu to change the volume, for example. With the advent of some new technologies, we can apply rotary dials on top of display systems, which communicate through the touch sensing of the display. In this way, a visual element can accompany the rotary action, adding to the experience.

What are your thoughts on gesture controls? Do you think we could see more of them in mass-produced cars or limited to high-end, niche applications?

Gesture control technology is mature enough, but the question is how will it be deployed?

The technology is mature enough, but the question is how will it be deployed? We – as an industry – should avoid adopting technology for the sake of the technology, but rather, identify ways in which the technology can be adopted to solve a real problem for users. The slow uptake on this technology can be attributed to end-users having to learn and remember a new way to interact with the car. Is it easier and more natural? Does it reduce driver distraction? If you answer yes to these questions, then it is a proper solution. But often this is not the case. We are not seeing a rush to adopt this technology beyond niche applications.

What opportunities do virtual personal assistants open up for Visteon?

Our intention is that the cockpit experience adapts to the driver and passengers for natural interaction, not the other way around. A personal on-board assistant based on AI technology supports and enables this possibility. Visteon has developed a smart assistant called Say 'n Serve, which gives on-board support specific for all vehicle functions with natural language interaction, but also enables access to Cloud functionality outside the vehicle. By using this technology and integrating further technology like passenger monitoring and situation analysis, our cockpit experience achieves natural adaptation.

What do you see happening with in-car displays? i.e. more of them? Curved? Wider?

We're at an interesting point for automotive displays. Looking to the past, we see a sort of staircase function in display performance. We graduated from passive displays, to TN displays, to IPS – where we currently sit. IPS technology was introduced to the public on certain smartphones and was revolutionary for its time in terms of performance characteristics; but we see in the consumer and TV space that the market has moved on – largely to OLED and competing technologies. The automotive space is at this inflection point as well, which is why Visteon is bringing the microZone display to market. This LCD-based solution fills the technology gap in automotive. It can meet the performance targets, without sacrificing automotive reliability.

What's next for cockpit electronics?

We see in the mass-market a major trend for what we call informational ADAS.

We see in the mass-market a major trend for what we call informational ADAS. It starts with 360-degree surround view, with additional features such as park distance control, object warning and parking assist. This is extended with automated parking features and HMI applications for autonomous driving to inform what the car is seeing and intending to do. Finally, the cockpit is migrating to adaptive and informational infotainment to support the passenger when they are driving in autonomous mode.

Is there anything else that you would like to add about Visteon's technologies or market position?

Visteon is well placed with cockpit and autonomous driving in relation to the on-going changes around vehicle technology – which is driven by trends towards EVs and autonomous. The main changes will happen in this space. That is why we have a strong focus enabling centralized computing in cockpit and ADAS, enriched with new technology enhancing advanced displays, as well as AI-based smart assistance and passenger monitoring to create an adaptive and intelligent cockpit for the future.