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World-first structural electronics research for in-car electronics

last modified May 12, 2020 10:27 AM
Pioneering structural electronics research led by Cambridge PhD student Ashutosh Tomar on behalf of Jaguar Land Rover has been unveiled as a world-first for next-generation in-car personalisation.

Dr Tomar, who is also the Electrical Research Technical Manager at Jaguar Land Rover, has been working on the Lightweight Electronics in Simplified Architecture (LESA) research technology – used in flexible wearables and curved OLED TVs – for car interiors. It has formed part of his PhD research, under the supervision of Professor Daping Chu, Director of both the Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE) and the Centre for Photonic Devices and Sensors

The technology has the potential to radically change cabins of the future, allowing curved screens on dashboards and drivers the ability to customise their cars’ interiors thanks to colour-changing body panels. 

The Jaguar Land Rover research was awarded an Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Innovation Award last year, with judges praising it as “the future of electronics in the car”. 

With LESA technology, Jaguar Land Rover will be able to manufacture body panel displays to show information only when needed to help designers achieve streamlined and buttonless designs for future cars. Such designs may include customisable interior ambient lighting systems, body controls, wraparound buttonless dashboards and advanced fabric/leather heated steering wheels. 

Features using the award-winning LESA technology would be created using a faster, simpler and more automated process, be more flexible in usage and offer technological advancements – such as making digital displays appear on surfaces like wood without the need for a screen. It also makes adding solar panels to the vehicle possible without adding extra system weight to car. The renewable power generated from the sun could then be used to recharge the battery. 

The system uses computer-aided design (CAD) to virtually ‘unfold’ a part into its 2D structure. The required electronic circuit, ordinarily wired into a traditional engine control unit (ECU), is then printed onto the flat surface, and components are mounted, before the CAD is folded back into its original 3D. The part is then manufactured with the electronics printed into the structure.

Jaguar Land Rover has successfully trialled LESA technology on an overhead control panel prototype, achieving a weight reduction of 60% and minimising the part size from 50mm to 3.5mm.

The lightweighting benefits are a step towards Jaguar Land Rover’s vision for Destination Zero; an ambition to make societies safer and healthier, and the environment cleaner delivered through relentless innovation. By removing weight from the vehicle, future Jaguar and Land Rover models will benefit from increased electric range or improved fuel efficiency, helping to further the company’s goal of a zero emissions future. 

Mr Tomar said: “Healthcare, aerospace, consumer technology and military industries are already harnessing the benefits of structural electronics and our research is leading the way in the automotive sector by bringing it into the cabin for the first time. 

“We believe LESA represents the future of vehicle electronics and will enable us to design and manufacture innovative, flexible and customisable cabins for our customers while also reducing weight and cost during production, helping us reach Destination Zero.”