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Customising automotive HMIs with advanced switches

Posted: 16 Jul 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:haptics  User interface  vehicle infotainment 

In order to provide solutions that deliver repeatable audible responses, switch manufacturers have developed established platforms that allow designs to carry over to different applications. These switches provide high-reliability and consistent haptics in an "automotive proven" series, while also achieving drastically reduced development cost and time.

Implementing new technologies
Consumers are by now familiar with touch screens in their smart phones, vehicle infotainment systems, navigation/GPS systems, and even computer monitors. Similarly, touch sensing controls, including tactile screens, can now be implemented into almost any electronic device, including centre console interfaces. The "clicker" function can be enabled with any touch-sensitive surface, and provides uniform haptics over any surface. The simple mechanical system integrates low-profile tactile switches with the actuating superstructure to provide a clickable touch sensing system.

Based on a structure with supporting points, the actuator collects and transmits the force from the touching surface to the switch with a minimum of distortion or power consumption. Pressure on any surface will apply a force on the supporting points at the edge, which will then in turn send back the force to middle arms and then to the appropriate tact switch. The technology is more efficient than "hinged" solutions by providing a smooth and uniform click. Multiple configurations, structures and profiles can be developed depending on the application and room available for integration, from 2.5 to 10 mm.

In addition, the clicker technology can combined with multiple key areas based on the same actuating surface. The keys/buttons are managed via touch sensing in that each area is used for pre-selection of the function. Selecting the function is managed by actuation on the whole surface. The main benefit is that instead of managing separated keys/buttons, the unit can be managed by a single flush surface with haptics, reducing integration issues and simplifying some features like key alignment, backlighting, and tactile difference between keys.

In terms of assembly and maintenance, electromechanical components for automotive applications often feature quick connections that support modular installation so that they can be plugged into the panel and locked firmly into place, simplifying both assembly and maintenance. This arrangement also lets the OEM store individual switch elements separately and configure them during final assembly to meet application-specific needs, while saving storage space and costs.

One such example of this is seen with illumination, as automotive vehicles contain a large number of visual indicators for informational and safety purposes, signifying the current state or function of vehicle's features. LED indicators can be mounted independently of the switch and interfaced with an IC that controls it for slow or fast blinking, or to produce various colours that indicate the status.

Adding illumination at the switch level significantly reduces materials costs, as some switch designs with optional illumination allow users to order the base switch with or without the cap, providing the ability to order one base switch together with multiple colour caps, or snap-on caps, during the installation process to suit each specific application. This modular solution not only allows OEMs to have fewer part numbers to inventory, thus simplifying materials and assembly processes, but it also gives engineers greater flexibility with circuit and panel designs.

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