Driving the revolution in automotive and mobility

On the road to highly assisted and autonomous driving, the classic driving experience is transforming into a more holistic mobility experience – with optical solutions playing a key part in enhancing safety, comfort and driving pleasure.

Electrification, connectivity, assisted and autonomous driving – the automotive industry is undergoing a fundamental change. Which role do optical semiconductors play in this?

Over more than 100 years as a trusted partner for the automotive industry, we have witnessed and pioneered many groundbreaking trends in automotive technology. The most revolutionary, however, is happening right now. For a long time, in the driver's perspective, the engine, chassis and driving experience came first. Today, with cars becoming increasingly electrified, automated, connected and shared, the user and driver focuses on a more holistic mobility experience: on safety and comfort, on connectivity and entertainment, on increased interaction with the vehicle's functions and features. To bring this new automotive paradigm into reality, optical solutions play an essential role. 

Can you give us some examples?

For many years, traditional optical technologies provided essential functions for headlights, breaking and turn signals, and in-cabin lighting. With LEDification many of these traditional technologies have already been replaced by LED light sources. In addition, we find many more optical products for smart illumination and visualization in modern or next generation cars – from highly-pixelated matrix headlamps, ambient lighting, C2X communications, and display backlighting. 

And there are many promising new growth drivers in the field of sensing, such as in-cabin sensing and driver monitoring due to regulatory requirements, the upcoming use of LIDAR sensing for automated driving functions, or smart surfaces as the car develops into a third living room for the user. Based on our global leadership in Automotive lighting and a strong sensing portfolio, ams OSRAM serves these applications with a broad spectrum of light emitters and sensing solutions. 

What does this trend toward smart solutions mean for exterior lighting?

One major trend is Dynamic Forward Lighting, which is about intelligent pixelated headlights with a number of light points. These adaptive headlights are becoming increasingly sophisticated as they allow adaption to oncoming traffic, highlight traffic signs and even project information on the road. 

To solve the problem of glare, for example, the highly pixelated LED headlights automatically switch off pixels that would interfere with the view of the driver of an oncoming vehicle. The more pixels, the more precisely the beam can be adjusted. Our EVIYOS technology raises the number of pixels from the current level of just a few dozen pixels to around 26,000 pixels, which not only enables a significant improvement in adaptive headlight operation but also the projection of warning symbols onto the road surface.

You mentioned smart surfaces. What is behind this concept?

Car manufacturers today want to bring increasing functional complexity into the car interior. At the same time, the trend is moving toward tidy cockpits with smooth surfaces and intuitive controls. Physical buttons and knobs are becoming more and more outdated. And displays are limited to certain areas due to geometric restrictions and relatively high cost, while also suffering from reflections.

A new human-machine interface is needed – which can be realized via so-called smart surfaces. They combine light sources, drivers, and sensors to allow novel applications inside the car. For example, interactive, decorative backside-illuminated animations and Shytech buttons that only appear when the user looks at them or moves his hand toward them. This will revolutionize interaction across the full car interior, including the middle console, center stack, overhead consoles, door panels or steering wheel.

Are all these new functionalities not impacting the distance range of electric vehicles?

Of course, these functions need electrical power, and there are intense discussions in the industry about trade-offs between functionality and energy consumption. At the same time, our increasingly efficient semiconductor solutions help save energy in these functions. For example, our latest LED light sources for daytime running lights require 33% less power compared to six years ago, while providing more brightness at the same time. In the end, this will be a question of optimizing trade-offs for car manufacturers and buyers. Particularly as light and sensing features are becoming an increasingly more important differentiation factor for OEMs.

How will the car of the future look like? 

Cars will become third living rooms with totally new interior designs, including new possibilities of interaction. Think of windows which serve as interactive screens, of brilliant microLED displays, tailored ambient light scenarios, innovative forms of projection, interactive surfaces, gesture and voice control. Traveling will be just one of many function cars will fulfill – and a great part of these functions will be enabled by optical solutions.