Continental design stacks up to improve cockpit aesthetics

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  • Image: Continental4-11_black-panel-comfort 13 by 18.jpg
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Continental's new center stack is being integrated into OEM pre-development projects.

The “glass cockpit” philosophy of modern aircraft, which has allowed the replacement of vast arrays of instruments and switches, has already become established in premium and even subpremium cars.

But design criteria in the auto industry are markedly more aesthetically driven than those of the aerospace industry, which majors to a greater degree on functionality. So integrating some displays into dashboards can be a problem, leading to design constraints involving materials, radii, and surfacing.

Recognizing this, Continental has come up with a new center stack module that it claims provides harmonious surfaces and greater freedom of design. Although not yet in production, it is being integrated into OEM predevelopment projects.

“Modern cockpits typically have many curved surfaces, and integrating current rectangular, flat-surfaced displays is not easy,” said Guido Meier-Arendt, a specialist in HMI (human-machine interface) Concepts and Evaluation, Interior Electronics Solutions, based at the company’s Babenhausen, Germany, R&D center. “Our goal is the development of multimodal interaction concepts and the appropriate systems and components. The driver should decide how he or she interacts with the cockpit. Information dimming and filtering represent another strategy to enhance interaction.”

The new center stack concept design has an 8-in color touchscreen display and all control functions. The module uses black panel technology to smooth the transition from display surface to control elements, including virtual switches and slide controls. The display and control elements are visible only when illumination is activated.

“Our new black-panel device is a milestone on our roadmap for adaptive concepts,” said Meier-Arendt. “It helps to automatically reduce the presented information down to the individual and situational needs of the driver.”

The Continental center stack has a 3-D shaped front cover with what the company terms a “definable tint level.” Backlighting is via RGB (red, green, blue) and white LEDs, which can create a very broad color spectrum. This helps the display blend into a brand-specific cockpit color regime.

All electronic components are integrated within a pre-configured module, which includes the functional printed board and microcontrollers to interpret the capacitive fields, the display control, the light guiding plate with LEDs, the capacitive foils, and the front cover.

The capacitive technology, which replaces hard keys, facilitates a lower height and weight than those needed in most current center stacks.

While a definitive configuration has yet to emerge, the current concept has an entry menu level accessed via five switches. Two context-sensitive sub-menu levels look after salient functions, and separate control elements provide access to climate control.

A need-to-know/activate philosophy is applied to achieve ergonomic optimization, with inactive functions faded out.

Touchscreens are regarded by Meier-Arendt as the “perfect choice” for a cockpit when the integrated screen is within the driver’s reach: “But it depends on the cockpit design, which in turn can depend on the size of the car, as to whether a touchscreen or central controlling device is the easier to use.”

Specific colors for display and control elements complemented by a set of shapes can be used to further optimize ergonomics. An example is HVAC: capacitive slide controls illuminate to the side and beneath the display and control color varies from red to blue for temperature range. The temperature control has fine gradations for greater control.

Consumer electronic interfaces can be integrated into the Continental stack; using the same hardware, the function content can be scaled up and down within “wide limits.” Because of this, Continental expects to achieve convincing economies of scale despite the use of varying equipment levels.

Meier-Arendt added that the company is now working on a technology concept for C- or possibly B-segment models to adjust display and interaction concepts comparable to those now generally only available in premium cars: “But one obstacle remains—larger displays are now, and will be in the near future, more expensive than conventional mechanical instruments.”

One of the on-screen driver information sources is tire pressure monitoring, and Continental has just issued a recommendation that OEMs should use direct tire pressure measurement system (DTPMS) technology with a sensor in each tire. Helmut Matschi, Head of the Interior Design Division and a member of the company’s Executive Board, said: “Direct measuring is superior in speed and accuracy on an immediate function level. The additional driving safety and comfort that can be created on the system level if using sensors inside the tire builds a strong case for direct measurement.”

The sensors continuously measure both tire pressure and temperature. Matschi explains that typical indirect systems calculate air pressure based on information from wheel speed sensors. Continental regards this as insufficiently accurate to achieve optimum fuel consumption and CO2 emissions results. Tire-pressure monitoring systems are gaining increasing importance as a potential support for reduced CO2 figures and greater safety. Following TPMS legislation in the U.S., Europe will introduce first-phase requirements in new vehicles from next year. A second, more rigorous phase, will follow.

Continental officials believe that most tire failures are due to a slow loss of air pressure that may not be noticed by the driver for many miles. Direct systems are designed to operate within tight parameters and to react quickly and precisely to gradual pressure loss.

The TPMS system will be able to link with a Continental app called Filling Assistant, contacting the driver’s smart phone regarding pressure level. The company’s next-generation intelligent tire modules will also provide information on instantaneous distortion of a rolling tire, which could provide an aquaplaning alert.

Continental will be ready for production with the tire module mounted inside the tire in 2013.

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