Game-changing smart HMI technology demonstrator showcases next level innovation

Author : Neil Armstrong | Managing Director | In2tec Group

01 August 2022

In2tec Smart HMI Technology Demonstrator
In2tec Smart HMI Technology Demonstrator

British firm, In2tec has harnessed next-level innovation for human-machine interface (HMI) & vehicle control to enable a game-changing steering wheel technology demonstrator for designers & engineers in the automotive sector.

This article was originally featured as the cover story in the August 2022 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Underpinned by In2tec’s 20+ years’ smart HMI electronics expertise across automotive and aerospace, and the company’s commitment to innovation in sustainable electronics, the steering wheel demonstrator showcases the opportunities provided to HMI applications via the incorporation of In2tec’s innovative flexi-hybrid technologies, says In2tec Group Managing Director, Neil Armstrong...

Building on the latest in sustainable flexi-hybrid technology, and underpinned with highly recyclable electronic assemblies, the low-profile steering wheel utilises advanced and patented flexible electronics that address previous function, aesthetic and packaging constraints. The demonstrator is intended to inform and inspire design engineers, showcasing the ground-breaking possibilities in smart HMI and vehicle control systems.

In2tec flexible electronics enable designers to address function, aesthetic & packaging constraints
In2tec flexible electronics enable designers to address function, aesthetic & packaging constraints

Neil Armstrong, Group Managing Director at In2tec says: “Using the latest in smart HMI, touch technologies and 3D conformable circuit boards, we have developed a flexible electronics solution that will transform the future of automotive manufacture and design. The In2tec technology demonstrator enables us to share what this next-level system capability can offer OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and Tier 1 suppliers. Crucially, it also encompasses highly recyclable electronic assemblies thanks to our flexi-hybrid technology and low carbon footprint recycling processes.”

The design elevates existing capabilities like capsense with the integration of Hands-Off/Hands-On-Detection (HOD) functionality and dynamic monitoring of the driver’s heart rate, which futureproofs the wheel’s capabilities in line with existing and next-generation safety and legislation requirements.

In2tec’s unique flexi-hybrid technologies allow the integration of interface solutions like proximity detection and haptic technologies within ergonomic designs that transform driver experience, feedback and comfort.

In2tec flexible electronics exposed: close-up view of the electronics within the steering wheel technology demonstrator
In2tec flexible electronics exposed: close-up view of the electronics within the steering wheel technology demonstrator

Utilising an ultra-thin complex curve construction built around flexible electronic circuit assemblies, the wheel shape includes a level of concave and convex surfacing not realisable with rigid or semi-rigid printed circuit technologies, such as those implemented using current standard technologies. Moreover, In2tec’s innovative application of flexible electronic assemblies allows a more free-form approach to the shape of the whole wheel. So, the complex 3D shapes allow for sensors and the user input interface to seamlessly fit within the complex and limited space within the steering wheel assembly. This means every area of real estate can be utilised, while significantly reducing both profile and weight.

The low-profile OLED (organic light-emitting diode) and hi-definition LCD (liquid-crystal display) display is curved, to provide an ergonomic and immersive experience, and allows details to be presented to the driver in a non-cluttered manner. The display is designed as an always ‘up’ LCD display, ensuring information remains vertical for ease of use in real-world driving conditions, even when the wheel is turned.

Both vehicle and driver data can be displayed, as it can collate and present information like grip-slip and G-force with driver’s heart rate and pulse trace information that are gathered through the sensors built into the steering wheel. Integrated with the driver awareness functions, through an inbuilt micro camera, it provides the hub for driver safety management systems, as well as driver-vehicle setting preferences linked to driver recognition. Accordingly, as well as identifying the driver via facial recognition technology upon vehicle start, and automatically setting driver preferences, it looks at their behaviour and attentiveness when driving.

Complex 3D shape allows sensors & user interface to fit seamlessly within the limited space of the steering wheel assembly
Complex 3D shape allows sensors & user interface to fit seamlessly within the limited space of the steering wheel assembly

With the space reduction gained, an LED (light-emitting diode) lighting guide has been integrated along the top portion of the wheel to safely communicate the vehicle’s functional state in the driver’s peripheral vision. This innovative light bar is a ‘secret-til-lit’ integrated technology which provides visual feedback only when needed, and so minimises driver distraction. It communicates rev limits, over-speed warnings, and left/right vehicle indicator alerts via diffused ambient light, with output through an array of individually addressable RGBW (red-green-blue-white) LEDs. Positioned at the top of the wheel, the LED light bar is ideally located to provide critical visual safety alerts for driver awareness, including driver hands-on/hands-off status.

Along with the secret-til-lit technology integrated into all user interface capsense buttons, the buttons have inbuilt proximity detectors. This allows them to go to half-light when the driver’s hand hovers over them, until then, the buttons are only visible by their surface shaping. In employing capsense technology, the buttons’ graphics fully illuminate driver-relevant information on contact, so only when needed. This means the wheel remains uncluttered to minimise driver distraction.

A further feature includes the integration of ultra-thin e-paper graphical displays on the gear and clutch shift paddles, which provide operational status information on current gear selection, and indicate the need to change gear. The low energy e-paper has the benefit of retaining the displayed image, even when no power is applied. These are integrated using robust connections provided by In2tec’s patented flat shielded twisted pair communications technology.

Ultra-thin complex curve construction is built around flexible electronic assemblies: wheel shape includes a level of concave & convex surfacing not realisable with rigid or semi-rigid printed circuit technologies
Ultra-thin complex curve construction is built around flexible electronic assemblies: wheel shape includes a level of concave & convex surfacing not realisable with rigid or semi-rigid printed circuit technologies

The wheel also includes a vehicle start-stop capacitive slider function and integrated ultra-low profile thumbwheel technology for easy access to the menu and infotainment options.

Dr. Mark Hudman, Development & Engineering Director at In2tec says: “In2tec has a strong history of delivering innovation to the automotive industry. We want to push the boundaries further by redefining the driver experience, while building on the latest in connectivity, safety, security and sustainability.”

He added, “Our innovative sustainable flexible electronics solutions have allowed In2tec to move beyond what is currently achievable in automotive design with traditional methods. This innovative, smart HMI steering wheel technology demonstrator shows the incredible possibilities for engineers and designers, using our advanced and patented electronics for design, functionality and style. Our highly recyclable flexible and flexi-hybrid electronics technologies include our commitment to providing materials, design models and manufacturing methodologies that allow a truly circular economy – and a positive impact towards achieving Net Zero carbon emissions. ReUSE® provides substrates, circuit tracks and component bonding systems that can be fully unzipped using organic solvents, significantly reducing the energy and high costs of manufacturing and recycling.”

Smart HMI technology demonstrator: steering wheel fully illuminated
Smart HMI technology demonstrator: steering wheel fully illuminated

British-based In2tec specialises in the design and manufacture of sustainable flexible electronics and smart HMI solutions for a broad range of applications that extends across all sectors that need user interfaces. This technology demonstrator shows the opportunities for automotive designers in consideration of in-vehicle electronic interfaces – but moreover, is also designed to showcase what In2tec’s unique capabilities and innovative, sustainable flexi-hybrid technologies can offer any application for HMI.

With R&D facilities based in the UK, and manufacturing centres in the UK and China, the firm delivers innovative solutions in fit, weight, shape, and look and feel, from simple projects through to the most demanding specifications. Established in 2001 following a management buy-out, In2tec is headquartered in Kettering, Northamptonshire.


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