Azumo technology can turn many surfaces in car interiors into information displays.AZUMO
“Navigation” screens have rapidly evolved in automobiles over the last few years to central information hubs that provide data on everything from climate-control settings to what Sirius-XM channel is playing to which of the driver’s favorite fast-food joints is coming up soon. This trend has been a mixed blessing, because it’s easy for vehicle owners to feel overwhelmed by all the data that’s coming at them — instead of grateful for it — on the increasingly large and hyperactive screens in the center of their dashboard.
Now, Chicago-based auto-technology supplier Azumo is developing information-display technology for all sorts of other places and all sorts of other surfaces in your car, including door panels, side windows and center consoles. Much of its work involves a partnership with glass maker Vitro.
Azumo is talking with an OEM, for example about getting displays installed on the back windshield of a car – so that, say, when a Lyft pulls up, your face is on the back of the vehicle. The displays also could flash identifying information about an arriving ride-share vehicle – akin to the ID numbers displayed on the top of taxis. Displays also could flash in a side window and tell the owner whether the driver door is locked or unlocked.
“We’re talking about a breakthrough display technology,” Azumo CEO Mike Casper told me. “What we deliver c an make displays more energy-efficient as well as more effective, embedded into all types of surfaces and more eye-safe.”
Tom Klopcic, vice president of business development for Azumo, added, “This isn’t just technology for the driver: It’s also for passengers in the car so they can have more control over their environment, such as through lighting. We’re adding comfort and the atmosphere of control.
“It’s a communication device,” Klopcic explained. “One thing we’ve heard throughout the industry is that designers don’t really care for the flat-panel display in the middle of the car,” known as the nav screen for the original navigation function that many of the first screens solely performed.
“They can’t design around it, especially as it gets bigger. What we can do with our product line is create images for controls and put them anywhere within the car, and remove all the dials and buttons and all of those heavy objects that are expensive to put in. And you can make this information act like a touch screen on a phone.”
Casper added that “they key is it looks like and embeds into the surface of the vehicle. You don’t think it’s a screen or a smartphone. You’re touching wood grain or metallics.” And when Azumo’s displays aren’t activated, Klopcic added, “It’s transparent and you see nothing. You get images of what you want to do through activation, with controls, and then it goes away again.”
Azumo’s technology remains two or three years or even longer from commercialization, Casper said. Yet he believes its use is inevitable, especially as OEMs near deployment of fully autonomous vehicles in which the vital functions of driving increasingly are taken from the driver, giving the driver as well as passengers more time and freedom to interact with the car’s information environment.
“With autonomous vehicles, our technology will make the ride experience more interactive,” Casper said, “and you can get more out of it no matter where you’re sitting in the vehicle.”