Continental has developed Morphing Controls technology for vehicle interiors which allows a look at the future of a vehicle’s interior where illuminated buttons stand out against the surface of a car’s dashboard as soon as the hand of the driver nears the surface. In reaction to the driver’s needs, 3-dimensional buttons come to shape to allow the individual to choose their entry. The button will communicate a brief pulse of confirmation and disappear without a trace left behind on the surface as the driver pulls their hand away.

With Morphing Controls — operating elements that take shape — Continental creates vehicle interiors for human-machine interaction, making as many functions easily usable with as few buttons as possible.

“Morphing Controls make various functions usable, depending on need and the driving situation, thanks to surfaces that change,” said Jens Brandt, Vice-President, Instrumentation and Driver HMI, Continental, North America. “This can reduce driver distraction with a simple dashboard that looks sleek and offers full control to the end user at all times.”

The stretchable and light-permeable Morphing Control material has the look and feel of premium artificial leather. The material permits a precise shape of the well-lit symbols with high illumination intensity and homogenous lighting. In its deactivated condition, both the symbols and the mechanical elements become invisible and intangible to the occupants.

Operating elements that only take shape as needed help create an integrated and harmonious experience between the driver and their instrumentation. A combination of material innovation, sensors, electronics and electromechanics is necessary. Capacitive proximity sensors under the surface of the dashboard recognize the human hand and reveal the controls. These move themselves forward through the stretchable multilayer surface material and the button’s function are shown by LED illumination. The driver’s finger pressure is measured and a tactile signal is triggered when there is sufficient force – another proven principal in this series.

The pulse signal tells the driver the function has been successfully activated. With this process, Morphing Controls can practically be operated without needing to be in the driver’s line of sight. The first demonstrator for the new operating elements shows classic buttons. However, slide controllers can be just as easily implemented with the material technology.

“Quiet surfaces in the vehicle interior cause little distraction for the eye. At the same time, operation is incredibly simple due to the proximity sensors, force recognition and tactile feedback,” said Dr. Dirk Leiß, Director of the Continental business unit Benecke-Hornschuch Surface Group. “Morphing Controls are a modular concept, suitable for the door panelling or the headliner.”

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