A stop sign floats bright red in front of the screen. Rows of houses growing out of the navigation system: Continental wants to revolutionize the display in vehicles with three-dimensional effects. According to Continental’s vision, Lightfield displays will not only enable comfortable 3D perception, but will also raise the graphic possibilities to a new level through highlighting, accentuation and complex lighting effects. According to the automotive technology company, drivers will be able to capture information reliably and in real time, making the dialogue between driver and vehicle more comfortable and intuitive. In contrast to existing solutions can the 3D representation be experienced by all passengers – in the front passenger seat as well as in the rear seats.
Continental praises the Lightfield cockpit as an “evolutionary step in the design of human-machine dialog in vehicles. “The new Lightfield display not only brings the third dimension into the vehicle in a new quality. With this innovative technology, we are also creating a new dimension of comfort and safety in automobiles,” explains Dr. Frank Rabe, head of the Instrumentation & Driver HMI business unit at Continental. At the same time, this solution gives vehicle manufacturers the opportunity to enhance the driving experience for their customers and to differentiate themselves from the competition thanks to individual design options”. The system should be ready for series production by 2022.
Development partner Leia Inc. is approaching the topic from a different angle. “For us, the car is a larger, more immersive version of a smartphone with full 3D environment capture,” explains David Fattal, co-founder and CEO of Leia Inc. “So the implementation of our Lightfield ecosystem with virtual reality gaming, video streaming, social sharing or even e-commerce in the vehicle is a logical consequence”. This might sound somewhat bewildering in view of the traffic hazards posed by drivers handling their smartphones while driving and thus endangering their fellow human beings. But Fattal has another scenario in mind: the self-driving car, in which all passengers are allowed to deal with things that are not safety-critical.
The visualization of content on a wide display specially developed for vehicles is supposed to be more sophisticated and entertaining than on a smartphone. In addition, the new technology makes it possible to use internal or external camera systems for video calls or augmented reality functions. All these options are to be exploited within the framework of the cooperation between Continental and Leia.
Leia’s Lightfield technology, which Continental uses in its 3D display, does not require a head tracker camera – a practical and cost-saving advantage. For the first time, passengers in the passenger seat and rear seats can also experience the same 3D image from their sitting positions.
But there is another leap in quality that sets the new system apart from earlier 3D processes: The 3D image of the Lightfield display consists of a total of eight perspectives of the same object, which can vary slightly, depending on the viewing position. Thus, the view of the Lightfield display “wanders” with every change in the viewer’s viewing angle. In this way, an exceptionally natural reproduction of information on the display is possible, promises Continental.
In terms of technology, the decisive factor for this quality is a newly developed light guide with nanostructures. The system does not work with refraction, but with diffraction; the light is directed exactly where it is needed for the optimal 3D effect.
Continental is now adapting Leia’s existing technology for use in vehicles. Until recently, either parallax barriers or lenticular techniques were used to create a spectacle-free 3D effect. The 3D effect was achieved by a special method of blocking or refracting light. However, Parallax barrier systems in particular only offer applications for a single user because a head tracker system is required to adjust the 3D views to the exact head position of the viewer. When used for multiple users, including passengers and passengers in the back seats, these systems can also have a negative impact on perceived image quality and luminous efficacy, similar to a filter.
From Continental’s point of view, the automotive industry attaches great importance to displaying information of the highest quality. The 3D lightfield application should therefore offer a decisive evolutionary step compared to conventional 3D displays. The system works even in direct sunlight, they say.
In terms of technology, the “Natural 3D Instrument Cluster” is based on Leia’s Diffractive Lightfield Backlighting (DLB). A light guide with diffraction gratings and nanostructures under the display panel ensures precise diffraction of the light and thus a natural 3D effect. The light guide module can be integrated into many commercially available displays. The Leia nanofabrication process can be used for large series and mass production. The company has combined advanced lithography on a large-volume substrate with high yield and competitive costs. It was able to draw on HP’s experience.
Leia’s Lightfield technology made its US market debut in smartphone displays in cooperation with AT&T and Verizon. Consumers can already enjoy gaming, movies, augmented reality and image sharing in unprecedented 3D quality. The Lightfield experience consists of the Lightfield display and an extensive range of automotive applications that will be provided by Continental in the future.
Continental and Leia are also collaborating on content creation and developer support. Leia currently offers a creative toolkit to convert or create content in Lightfield format with automatic settings for visual convenience.
The Lightfield projection of the new car display has many applications. Warnings from driver assistance systems are displayed in 3D, directions from the navigation system can be displayed even more clearly, and the graphic display of the parking aid – such as the assistant with 360-degree bird’s eye view – is to become more attractive in 3D. And the greeting from the vehicle system can be enhanced with the help of 3D animations if, for example, the manufacturer’s logo rotates in 3D in the cockpit. “It’s important to note here: The 3D animations on our new display don’t fly through the car like they do in the cinema,” explains Kai Hohmann. “We work with the graphic depth to the rear and allow all 3D objects to emerge from the picture by a maximum of five centimeters. This is more relaxed for the eye, the driver is never irritated.”
The cooperation will use Continental’s know-how in the field of information systems and sensors to augment the LeiaLoft content platform. This will enable car manufacturers and external developers to easily create holographic apps for future vehicles.