Test & Measurement

New Continental Display and Control Concept for Center Stacks

Displays play an ever increasing part in the instrumentation of vehicle cockpits. The international automotive supplier Continental has developed a new display and control concept that has already found its way into the first pre-development projects with vehicle manufacturers.
Displays offer great freedom of design and are thus ideally suited for a multitude of ways to show information even including photorealistic representations. As the display surface can be used to show whatever information is of instantaneous relevance, it helps to communicate a lot of information in an easily digestible way without overburdening the cockpit with instruments. However, it is a challenge to integrate a display well because the transition between display surface and the adjacent surfaces should be smooth. Due to their rectangular shape and flat surface, current displays are not easily integrated into the typically curved shapes of modern cockpit designs. Continental’s new center stack module now offers car maker’s designers and engineers globally a wealth of added freedom in the cockpit design language of shape.

New approach – seamless unit of display and surrounding hardware

With the center stack module Continental has developed a new way to fully visually integrate an 8“-color display plus all control functions in a center stack. Design and ergonomics can thus remain highly compatible priorities. The new module uses black panel technology to smoothen the transition from display surface to control elements, such as virtual switches and slide controls. Display and control elements are only visible when the illumination is activated. The center stack’s surface consists of a tinted and three-dimensionally shaped front cover with definable tint level. Under this front cover lie the 8”-color display, the illumination, and the capacitive foils which recognize the driver’s or front passenger’s input. The display area itself is also touch-sensitive which makes it a combined display and control element, called a touch screen. The backlighting of the center stack and display is done with energy efficient light emitting diodes (LEDs). Thanks to a combination of RGB LEDs and white LEDs practically any color can be generated.

Ergonomic control

The driver can make all input with the touch of a fingertip. In the current concept the entry menu level is accessed by five menu switches to the left of the display. By organizing the contents clearly, just two context-sensitive sub-menu levels suffice to use the most important functions. Separate control elements give direct access to the climate control. Several modes of operation ensure that the visual information is ergonomically optimized. For instance inactive functions are faded out (“fade effect”) to direct the driver’s attention. The possibility to choose a consistent and harmonious range of colors for display and control elements together with a uniform set of shapes is another benefit to further optimizing center stack ergonomics. If the driver, for instance, activates temperature control as part of HVAC, capacitive slide controls light up to the side and beneath the display. As the control color varies between blue and red the driver will intuitively perceive the corresponding temperature level. Using color coding of this type makes handling the controls more easy and makes the stack appear bigger. The capacitive area’s control behavior also changes: Temperature control has been consciously given very fine steps, so it takes several sliding movements to trigger great temperature changes (relative level control). Fan control works differently, though: In this function all steps are contained within the physical length of the sliding area of the control (absolute control). To support an ergonomic way of operation and to make input with little or no eye-hand coordination easier, the keys and slide controls are equipped with a haptic finger guidings function which also blends in harmoniously with the center stack’s overall design.

Complete and functionally scalable module with low height

The new center stack concept integrates all the electronic components within a pre-configured module: This includes the functional printed board and the microcontrollers which interpret the capacitive fields, the display control, the light-guiding plate with LEDs, the capacitive foils, and the front cover. In the vehicle the center stack is either connected to a central head unit that serves as higher-level data source or to an HMI controller – both options are standard practice these days. Thanks to the capacitive technology that has replaced hard keys, a center stack with Continental technology can be designed with lower height and lower weight than conventional center stacks. With some cockpit geometries that make it tough to integrate a flap display the new concept also offers an alternative. Consumer electronic interfaces can be integrated into the center stack as well. Always using the same hardware, the function content can be scaled up and down within wide limits, which is why Continental is expecting an economy of scale despite varying equipment levels. Owed to the RGB LED backlighting the new center stack is especially suited to blend into a consistent brand-specific cockpit color strategy. For instance, it will be easier to achieve a homogeneous color representation in the instrument cluster and the center stack.

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