Continental’s take on a modern dashboard is where illuminated buttons stand out against the elegant surface of a dashboard, as soon as the hand of the driver nears the surface. Where smooth artificial leather created a tidy, sophisticated look just a moment ago, three-dimensional buttons now light up.
Once the driver has successfully used the one he wants, he feels a brief pulse as confirmation. As soon as he pulls his hand away, the buttons disappear once more without a trace behind the surface. With these “Morphing Controls” (operating elements that take shape), the technology company Continental meets a previously often contradictory demand in vehicle interiors for man-machine interaction: making as many functions as possible easily usable with as few buttons as possible.
“Thanks to surfaces that change, Morphing Controls make various functions usable, depending upon need and driving situation. This allows us to greatly reduce driver distraction. The minimalist dashboard looks harmonious, however, and offers full control at all times,” says Dr. Frank Rabe, the director of the Continental business unit Instrumentation & Driver HMI.
The stretchable and light-permeable Morphing Control material with the look and feel of premium artificial leather is a development of the surface specialists in the Continental group. Thanks to its minimal scattering effect, the film that is used permits a very precise and contour-precise portrayal of the illuminated symbols with simultaneously high illumination intensity and homogenous lighting. In its deactivated condition, both the symbols and the mechanical elements become wholly invisible and impalpable to the occupants.
A combination of material innovation, sensors, electronics, and electromechanics is necessary: proven, capacitive proximity sensors behind the surface of the dashboard recognise the human hand and then activate the buttons. These move themselves forward through the reversibly stretchable multilayer surface material. Because the material is light permeable, the function of the buttons can be shown by means of LED illumination. The driver’s finger pressure is measured, and a tactile signal is triggered when there is sufficient force.
This gives the driver feedback, telling him that he has successfully activated the function. With this process, Morphing Controls can practically be operated while blind. If the driver pulls his hand back, the buttons disappear behind the surface. All that remains is fine artificial leather and a homogenous surface from an ergonomic point of view, without any distractions.
The Morphing Controls are one of the technical highlights of surface technology and will be presented to the broader public for the first time at the 300-year anniversary of the business unit at the Vinnhorst site.