Next step in automotive electronics: functional exteriors

August 09, 2021 // By Rich Pell
Functional automotive exteriors with printed, flexible electronics
A report from market research firm IDTechEx finds that while automotive vehicle interiors might be an obvious target for emerging technologies based on printed/flexible electronics, there are also plenty of opportunities for vehicle exteriors.

Overall, the report outlines the current status of printed/flexible electronics in all aspects of automotive design and manufacturing, along with the expected future opportunities created by the technological transitions represented by electric vehicles, increased levels of autonomy, and product differentiation shifting from the powertrain to the interior/cockpit. The opportunities specifically for printed/flexible electronics in vehicle exteriors, says the firm, range from transparent heaters to solar panels, and benefit from attributes as varied as transparency, conformality, low weight, and tunable absorption spectra:

Hybrid SWIR image sensors for ADAS - To ensure safety, ADAS systems and autonomous vehicles will require as much input data as possible. Imaging in the short-wave infrared (SWIR) spectral region is especially promising since light scatters less at longer wavelengths, enabling objects to be identified at longer distances in fog or dust. The incumbent technology for SWIR image sensors is prohibitively expensive, so innovative technologies are required. Coating silicon read-out circuits with either organic semiconductors or quantum dots, says the firm, is a highly promising approach.

Integrated antennas - As vehicles become increasingly connected, multiple antennas are needed to cover the multiple frequency bands used for various applications. These antennas need to be integrated into plastic body panels, opening opportunities for in-mold electronics and printing onto 3D surfaces. In the future, transparent antennas - using conductor materials such as silver nanowires, carbon nanotubes (CNTs), fine metal mesh, or even very thin layers of particle free ink - could also be installed on windows.

Exterior lighting and displays - As the level of vehicle autonomy increases, vehicles will need to interact with pedestrians. Low-cost printed/flexible displays are ideally suited to this purpose, as low weight, durability and conformality (including in an accident) are all more important than resolution. Possible approaches include printed LEDs, and mounting LEDs on flexible substrates.

Transparent heaters for exterior lighting/sensors/windows - Since cameras and LIDAR sensors in autonomous vehicles or ADAS systems will always require

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