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Texas Instruments wants LCDs out of cars

At CES 2013, Texas Instruments showed off a new rear-projection display technology that could replace LCD touch screens in cars.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
2 min read
Although it looks like an LCD, this display is actually a rear-projection screen with infrared touch technology. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

LAS VEGAS--The LCD touch screen has become commonplace in cars, but the technology suffers from limited shaping. Texas Instruments used its Digital Light Processor (DLP) technology to come up with a display that could take a wide variety of shapes in the car, and allow touch control for people wearing gloves.

In its exhibition area at CES 2013, Texas Instruments had a car dashboard mounted on a stand to show off the concept. A very large screen followed the curves of the dashboard down the center stack, capable of showing car functions such as navigation, phone, and audio. Just like any touch screen, it showed virtual buttons which reacted when touched.

The curve of this screen was something that could not be replicated by an LCD. An LCD of this size would also be cost-prohibitive for most automakers. And it used a different kind of touch technology, infrared instead of capacitive, that made it possible to control while wearing gloves.

Instead of a glass sandwich, the touch area was actually a rear-projection screen. A Texas Instruments DLP processed the imagery and sent it through a projector. The screen itself had all the clarity of an LCD. An infrared sensor behind the screen registered finger touches, and a processor determined the touch location and figured out the corresponding virtual button on the screen.

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QNX used Texas Instrument's display in its concept Bentley on the show floor.

There are currently no announced deals to use Texas Instruments' projection display in a car, and it faces a few hurdles. Although the DSP and camera system is not huge, it would take up more space than a touch screen in a car's interior. LCDs are fairly well-entrenched in the automotive space, taken for granted now by engineers and interior designers.

This HUD shows up bright and clear, and in full color, thanks to the Texas Instruments DLP. Texas Instruments

Even if its touch-screen technology is not adopted, Texas Instruments had another trick up its automotive sleeve. It showed how the DLP could be used in a head-up display (HUD). The concept unit on the show floor featured a pane of glass at the approximate angle of a windshield with imagery that would be useful while driving projected on to it.

The HUD looked very crisp and clean, and the imagery showed in full color. It was bright, easy to read, and Texas Instruments showed how it could display gradient colors, which could lead to very rich HUDs.

A Texas Instruments spokesperson cited how this concept HUD could reach levels six times brighter than current, production HUD technology. In a typical application, the imagery could be two times wider than production HUDs, and a single DLP could project the image across the entire windshield, with the right projection equipment in the dashboard. The DLP is also more power efficient than current HUD technologies.

As for implementation, an automaker with an existing HUD-equipped car, such as BMW or GM, could fairly easily replace the projection technology with that from Texas Instruments. However, no deals have been announced at this time.