A smooth interior surface conceals the technologies that enable a driver to start the vehicle, control the audio, HVAC, and navigation systems, as well as access smart phone apps without getting an assist from the Internet or the Cloud.
Magna’s concept cockpit demonstrator puts a spotlight on a smart surface that gets its capacitive sensing capability from copper-deposited film, which can be pre-formed and over-molded, or simply attached via adhesives to the back of plastic interior trim.
Unlike traditional flex circuits, which restrict the shape and geometry that is possible for a particular touch surface interface, the Intelligent Surface permits free-forming of shapes.
“We’re really able to form the circuit to the customer’s styling requirements. It really opens up the styling window and changes the limitation of areas in the vehicle that can use the technology. So that means deep draw and very small radiuses can be produced using our foil technology,” Mike West, Manager of Product/Process Development for Magna Exteriors and Interiors, explained to SAE Magazines.
With the automotive industry trending away from mechanical switches and controls as a way to reduce overall vehicle mass, engineers opted to pair the Intelligent Surface touch solution (which is under exclusive licensing rights from Austria-based Plastic Electronic) with Magna’s patented Integrated Device Molding Process (IDMP).
IDMP technology enables a smart phone and the vehicle’s onboard computer to communicate via a direct connect field.
“Personal privacy is very important to the end user, and with our technology we remove the option for the wrong person to link-in from outside the vehicle. We’re not sending information into the air—meaning Bluetooth, Internet, or the Cloud. We’re sending it right into our molded part, which is in-vehicle,” West explained.
Since a near-field connection may not fit the needs of all automakers, Magna engineers are working on alternative solutions. The in-development solutions would complement the direct charging that is now possible with IDMP technology when a handheld device (such as a smart phone) is in proximity of the contact-free, inductive energy source housed within the interior trim.
Magna engineers in the U.S. and Europe worked to perfect the IDMP’s wireless energy and data transfer technology for approximately two years.
“We were challenged with molding—meaning how to mold all the circuits and coils within a plastic component. After many trials and tooling changes, we were able to find the correct combination to start building a repeatable and robust solution,” said West.
IDMP also can provide automotive designers with a power source alternative in areas “where the traditional wire harness cannot go,” said West.
The final piece of Magna’s interior concept is provided via Clearmelt technology.
“Engel [Austria GmbH] has designed equipment to produce a polyurethane over-molding system, and Magna has added the technology for Intelligent Surface. The end result is a production system that can be controlled with the parting lines of the tool to provide a flash-free molded part,” explained West.
The technology is being refined to meet the interior testing specifications of OEMs.
“When perfected, it will provide a first-surface protective coating that can either replicate the surface of the tooling or make a very high-gloss show surface,” West said.
Magna’s cockpit demonstrator is receiving show time at trade shows and other venues around the globe. Although Magna has not yet landed an automotive contract for Intelligent Surface or IDMP, those technologies could be seen in a production vehicle application as early as the 2015 model year.