Buyers can choose displays, lights, and infotainment elements, and use connectors to position them in the vehicles of the future.
As consumers increasingly view cars as an extension of their home and workspaces, features that increase infotainment and productivity are becoming more important requirements. As a result, vehicle interiors are going to change a lot over the next several years. This trend will really ramp up when autonomous vehicles upset the concept of ownership. Short-term users will be able to customize a vehicle to be just right for them, temporarily.
Consumers, whether they are buying a vehicle or renting it, are asking for more speakers, more or bigger flat-panel displays, and more exotic lighting schemes. These enhancements in audio quality, mood lighting, and navigation and information displays create demand for a wide range of connectors.
“We are seeing an increase in cabling requests for automotive interiors. Customers are looking for locking and latching systems, polarization, discrete wire, and increasingly smaller pitch and higher density,” said Greg Reidinger, automotive industry manager at Samtec.
“We expect an increase in requests for finer pitch, higher density, lower profile, higher speed and bandwidth interconnects, and more demand for micro cable assemblies and cable assemblies that can handle higher bandwidths.”
At the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which took place January 13–28, automakers detailed changes that may be coming to passenger cars. While the futuristic cars that show up at these shows rarely move into production, many of the technologies and design elements often do end up on highways in more down-to-earth vehicles.
For example, Nissan proposed deploying a fingerprint sensor on the dashboard, along with large displays that provide a wealth of data. The side mirrors in just about every concept car were replaced with cameras. Adient (formerly Johnson Controls’ car seat operation), showcased sensor-enabled seating that monitors passengers’ health. These and other vehicular electronic advancements will require connectors, cable assemblies, and sensors from the consumer electronics and lighting industries.
Although autonomous vehicles won’t be a major market force for a while, their potential is creating excitement throughout the electronics and automotive industries. The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which also took place this January, highlighted the many changes in store, all of which are made possible by connectors linking a variety of electronics systems.
Autonomous cars feature interconnected systems that control operation, navigation, and safety, and are all connector-rich technologies. These life-or-death systems demand high-performance, ultra-reliable, and extremely precise components. But other technologies aim to simply enhance the driving experience. LED supplier Osram described a concept in which LEDs can be scattered around a glass roof to resemble a starry sky. For connector makers, this could be more of a wiring harness project, since connections would need to be small so the LED assemblies would be less noticeable in daylight hours.
In these and other emerging applications, automakers and Tier 1 companies are likely to follow conventional paths to reduce the size requirements of electronics while also improving performance and reliability, and they’ll be looking for connectors that support these trends.
These features aren’t limited to passenger cars either. Concepts from Toyota, Rinspeed, and others foretell a future in which all kinds of vehicles are designed for customization. Toyota unveiled its e-Palette autonomous concept commercial vehicle, which is designed for a broad range of uses. These van-like e-Pallettes vehicles are part of Toyota’s mobility-as-a-service development alliance, created with Amazon, Didi, Mazda, Pizza Hut, and Uber.
Toyota president Akio Toyoda described a variety of scenarios in which these new vehicles might find a place. For example: A group of e-Palettes could be parked around outdoor concert venues, fairs, and other open event areas, and operate as food service vehicles and stores on wheels that sell wares such as T-shirts. These vehicles are also likely to be rented out and altered to suit specific events.
Rinspeed, a well-known creator of concept cars, promoted a somewhat similar concept dubbed Snap. These large pods, which are also the size of large vans, can be customized for personal or commercial applications and are moved by a base called a skateboard, which autonomously drives them to a drop-off point. As such, Snap pods can be left at sites for indefinite time periods.
These types of customized vehicles will require a large number of connectors. Versatility is a central design factor for vehicles that are constantly being altered. A range of power and data connectors must be scattered around to make it easy for users to put things exactly where they want them.
“They aren’t a major part of our design, but certainly plenty of connectors will be used on any vehicle like this that goes into production,” said Frank M. Rinderknecht, Rinspeed’s founder.