Number of In-Vehicle Displays to Increase Dramatically in 2020s

The number of screens in cars will increase dramatically over the next few years, up to 12 per car, a connected car expert has claimed.

Rolf Bittner from Qt told TU-Automotive: “OEMs are asking us to support up to 12 screens in future cars, for both the driver and passengers. And these screens won’t just be HD, they’ll be 4K, spread all around the car.”

The number of screens in cars is increasing almost yearly, right from the Tesla Model S’s portrait 10.1-inch display, to the Porsche Taycan, with its multitude of displays for both drivers and passengers, crowned by the 16.8-inch display that replaces the traditional instrument cluster.

As is increasingly the norm in connected vehicles now, these screens will be controlled by one ‘system-on-a-chip’ (SOC). “These days people expect that content can move seamlessly from screen to screen, which means the systems will get more integrated. So you cannot build one system per screen anymore because that prohibits moving the content from left to right to different screens in the car. It needs to be one system that drives all those screens from one SOC,” said Bittner.

In some premium vehicles, these displays will be stitched together to form one big display across the front of the vehicle. “It’s easy to imagine these displays being stitched together at the front, with let’s say three displays forming one big display that the driver and a passenger can control. That means it’s vital the SOC has the power required to drive the 4K resolution of each display smoothly,” Bittner told us.

Additionally, in seven seater SUVs, each passenger might have their own display, Bittner said. “I mean you have these big, seven seater SUVs these days, and OEMs are asking whether each seat can have a real estate entertainment system for the really premium vehicles. At that point, we’re not really talking entertainment anymore. It’s also a command and control display from the rear seats like the massage function, heated seats, air conditioning.”

The infotainment system is one of the major ways automakers can differentiate themselves in an automotive world that is going increasingly electric. Bitter said: “As the user interface becomes a bigger, more important part of a vehicle, it also becomes a major differentiating factor. The components in an EV increasingly come from various suppliers, whereas in ICE, the engines were built more in-house. So a powertrain might come from ZF, brakes from Continental, until the infotainment system is the one thing that automaker might be able to differentiate itself with.”

He continued: “For the big tier one OEMs, it becomes too costly to outsource the development of a user interface, so it’s better to do the software in-house. This is a big change for them because they are becoming automotive software factories, from being engineering companies in the past.”

In the age of the autonomous car, these displays and infotainment systems could be a distraction. “Getting to level five autonomy is a step by step process. Today, there’s still a need for the actual driver to be alert but the time span that the car can drive on its own is getting longer and longer. If it’s two minutes, then as a driver, you still are following what the car is doing and you can take back control quickly. If it’s 10 minutes, it’s a different story because you will get distracted. You might start listening to music, reading an Ebook, listening to an audiobook or podcast, chatting with others in the car. Then the vehicle needs to prepare the driver in time to take back control, and that’s tricky because the vehicle needs to know to give the driver time to get to grips with what’s happening outside.”

Bittner then expanded his point: “This is a difficult task, to get the attention of the driver and inform them about the surrounding situation, and why they need to take control, to prepare them for what they need to be doing imminently. The UI for this has not been built yet. So this is something that we will see in vehicles in the next few years. The longer this time span gets where the vehicle can drive autonomously, the harder it will be for the car and the user interface to get the driver’s attention.”

Finally, Bittner said he expects to see more legislation about driver distraction and how that’s managed by law. “In the next few years, we’ll see harsher guidelines for driver distraction in all territories, APAC, North America, EMEA. It is already quite difficult for everybody developing vehicle. You want your UI to be beautiful, responsive, detail rich and innovative. At the same time, it cannot distract the driver; they need to find the information they need at the glance of an eye and not get distracted by other options or settings on the display.”

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