Jaguar Land Rover is adapting technology used in curved TVs and flexible wearables to develop cars that can be customized with the tap of a touchscreen.
The company is researching new uses for Lightweight Electronics in Simplified Architecture (LESA), and says the technology will let it build buttonless car interiors, wraparound dashboards, and even color-changing body panels that are essentially huge, curved AMOLED screens.
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The technology, which uses circuits printed onto non-metal materials, could also vastly reduce the size and weight of in-car electronics, making it possible to add far more systems than would normally be practical, including extra displays and solar panels to keep it all powered.
LESA works by using computer aided design (CAD) software to virtually 'unfold' a part of the car (such as a steering wheel, for example) into a two-dimensional structure. The necessary circuits and components are mapped onto the flat surface, which is then virtually folded back up into its original 3D form.
Once that process is complete, the part can be manufactured with the circuits already printed inside.
Jaguar Land Rover has already used the technology to create an overhead control panel prototype that weighs 60% less than a conventional design, and is 3.5mm thick rather than 50mm.
It's not clear when the tech might arrive in production vehicles, but the company has big plans for it. “Healthcare, aerospace, consumer technology and military industries are already harnessing the benefits of structural electronics and our research is leading the way in the automotive sector by bringing it into the cabin for the first time," said Ashutosh Tomar, Jaguar Land Rover electrical research technical manager.