You're trying to find the location for your next delivery. It’s a common experience for truck drivers, but one that’s made much easier today thanks to modern technology. Right on cue, a navigation app on your smartphone, which is plugged into your truck’s infotainment system, gives you an alert that a turn is coming up.
“Turn left onto Industrial Drive,” a friendly female voice prompts you.
Just to be sure, you take your eyes off the road and glance over to the display screen in the truck’s center console. You want to confirm that the next traffic light is indeed Industrial Drive. When you return your attention to the road, a fast-moving blur coming in from the right catches your eye. In a millisecond, you realize a red minivan is about to run through the intersection you're about to enter.
You stomp on the brakes and narrowly miss the minivan as it runs the red light.
That’s a scenario that happens to drivers countless times every day. And it’s a great example of how some modern technology — navigation apps for example — make our lives easier in those situations.
But let’s be honest. In many respects, the interior of the modern passenger car or commercial truck really hasn’t advanced much from a driver interface that became standardized 60 or 70 years ago. Sure, we have a lot of new apps and safety features on vehicles. But, we have yet to see a truly transformative modernization of how drivers — and people outside a vehicle — interact with it.
Which is why I think the immersive display at the AUO booth at CES 2024 was the most significant thing I saw at the sprawling annual electronics showcase. Its Smart Cockpit technology, including new driver- and passenger-interface technologies, is nothing short of amazing.
Following a presentation at the show led by Simon Hsu, AUO associate vice president, mobility solutions business unit, I was convinced that AUO's vision for the driver-vehicle interface is a harbinger of new transformative interaction and information technologies that will soon be mainstays in trucking.
A Display Technology Company You’ve Already Seen
You may not have heard of AUO, but you’ve seen its products and technologies if you’ve played a video game or so much as glanced at a television screen recently.
In a follow-up interview after CES 2024, Arun Mahapatra, product marketing manager for AUO America, explained that the company is widely regarded as a global leader in visual display technologies and that its products are commonplace in living rooms and gaming rooms around the world.
“In some ways, what we’re doing is using our technology to create an extension of your living room into the cab of a truck,” he said. “Particularly in the sleeper. We really see that as a third living space for drivers. We can use our display, monitor, and gaming technology, combined with our experience and expertise, to bring that technology into the mobility space in ways that make drivers safer, more efficient, and more comfortable.
"But we can also use that technology to make fleets more efficient on both the logistics and maintenance fronts.”
AUO’s vision for its Future Cockpit concept is fascinating to consider. The company is talking about changing virtually every decades-old aspect as to how drivers receive information about the world around them. More than that, though, AUO’s technology transforms how both the driver and the truck itself communicate with the outside world.
The key lies in AUO’s micro LED technology. At CES, Hsu called micro LEDs the “emerging next-generation display technology,” In AUO’s Smart Cockpit, micro LEDs combine with a special "decoration film" on vehicle windows to create immersive automotive display solutions.
Moreover, Hsu said, the Smart Cockpit will complement and blend perfectly with interior panels to go with various patterns and textures, such as wood print, to fit desired cockpit design aesthetics.
According to Hsu, micro LEDs offer high levels of brightness and high contrast. When they are combined with a high-transmittance patterned optical coating, they can be used in small illumination areas, rendering high color saturation, high transparency, and high LED reliability.
Importantly, Hsu adds, a transparent micro LED display can be used as a vehicle window display so drivers will not miss out any important information while checking out the scenery outside the window.
In other words, all the information on the screen is completely translucent. You can always see through the imagery and what is happening outside the truck.
A New Driver-Vehicle Interface
If all that sounds a bit complex, it might be better to describe how AUO’s Smart Technology will work in real-world trucking applications.
There are several important ways it can do that by changing the information environment inside a vehicle:
- How the driver receives information.
- How passengers receive information.
- Information conveyed inside the truck.
- Real-time, interactive graphic displays.
- Information conveyed outside the truck.
- Enhanced safety.
- Enhanced efficiency.
- Expedited maintenance.
- Increased creature comforts in the sleeper.
Let's start in the driver's seat.
There are a lot of new bells and whistles and display screens in new vehicles now. But, essentially, the interior of a modern car or truck is pretty much the same as it was on a 1962 Oldsmobile. There’s a dashboard and instrument cluster in front of the driver with gauges displaying critical operating information on the health of the vehicle and its performance on the road. There’s some sort of infotainment system in the center console — where the AM radio would’ve been on that ’62 Olds. And there’s a viewscreen and various options for selecting entertainment “media” and displaying navigation maps.
These are in no way, shape, or form truly integrated information systems. The information comes into the vehicle, and you have to divert your eyes away from the road to process it. Virtually no information comes out of the vehicle in return.
The strange thing is that modern, computer-inspired graphics, displays, and communication systems have moved into virtually every other aspect of our lives — but not in our vehicles.
AUO is set on radically changing all of that.
At a basic level, AUO’s infinity adjustable graphics technology allows drivers to set up truck dashboards exactly how they want to receive information.
They can set high-priority gauges where they want them. Drivers can decide where and how they want to get alerts and personalize controls. This is for everything from an engine brake to the volume control for the infotainment system.
These gauges aren’t just bland, featureless computer icons or graphics, either. AUO has developed sophisticated digital gauges that convey a depth of field to a viewer. So, to the naked eye, their digital displays look exactly like the instrument cluster on any car or truck you’ve ever driven.
Better yet, Mahapatra says, with the use of an ID card or a smartphone app, Smart Cockpits in any truck will automatically reconfigure to a driver’s preferences as soon as they climb into the vehicle.
On the right-hand side of the cab, AUO can provide an individual display screen, full internet connectivity, and access on the dashboard in front of the passenger.
The Smart Cockpit in Action
It’s when you start to consider what micro LEDs can do for truck cab windows that you really start to understand what AUO’s vision for commercial vehicle mobility is.
Let’s start with the portion of the windshield directly in front of the truck driver.
If you’re of a certain age, you may recall when digital heads-up displays (HUDs) enjoyed a brief moment as cutting-edge driver information technology back in the 1990s. Borrowed from fighter planes, the systems broadcast some digital information (usually vehicle speed) on a small, see-through display screen directly in front of the driver. The idea, of course, was that the driver didn’t have to take their eyes off the road to quickly get that information.
The problem was that these displays (when they worked) were completely static. There were no options available for what information a driver wanted to be displayed. And just about the only adjustments possible were turning the HUD on or off or adjusting its location inside the display area a bit.
AUO’s micro LED and high-transmittance patterned optical coating technologies are light years beyond those basic HUD capabilities. Instead, drivers get fully translucent information screens that actively boost how drivers see the world. No more taking your eyes off the road to check the navigation app on your smartphone or the directions being given on the center console display screen. Instead, a see-through prompt, with an arrow, flashes up directly in front of the driver to take the next left-hand turn or exit ramp off the freeway.
Better yet, AUO’s Smart Cockpit can be fully integrated with active safety systems on the truck.
For example, if the truck driver is following a car too close, a warning to back off will flash directly in the driver’s field of view prompting them to back off. Likewise, if a car is running a red light at an intersection, Smart Cockpit can flash a blinking red alert superimposed on the offending vehicle, in real-time, as it moves in front of the truck, to focus the driver’s attention on the threat.
And if you're about to make a wrong turn down a one-way street? The system can immediately flash a big red X on the windshield alerting you to your mistake.
Information and Interactive Displays Inside and Outside the Truck
On a productivity and efficiency front, the Smart Cockpit can tie in with fleet management systems. So, the driver can receive a prompt on the windshield in front of them telling them which unloading dock they’re headed to, instructions on how to find it, and who will be waiting on them to receive the cargo once they arrive.
The side windows on the truck have equally impressive capabilities. They’ll be able to display all sorts of information to drivers and passengers — anything from the name of an interesting-looking building off to the right, to confirming the name of a bridge you can see off to the left. Of course, they’ll be able to display ads and offers from businesses as well.
And bear in mind that AUO’s display system works on both sides of a window. So, the fleet management system could display a QR code on the passenger- or driver-side window that a receiving agent could scan, telling them all the details about the cargo in the truck’s trailer and where it needs to be routed to once it’s unloaded.
If all that isn’t enough, Smart Cockpit can also fully integrate with fleet maintenance systems.
So instead of jockeying back and forth between a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, a technician will be able to simply call up a maintenance menu on a truck’s window. This menu will be interactive and tied in with the truck's telematics, as well as logging driving complaints and preventive maintenance items scheduled by the fleet maintenance management system. The technician will simply tick off work done on the window/display screen and enter comments as necessary.
A More Relaxing Truck Sleeper
Given AUO’s experience with entertainment systems, it’s not surprising that the company is giving serious thought to ways to improve the comfort, rest and health of drivers out on the road away from home. The company has options such as sleeper walls that can transform into a television or gaming screen with the touch of a finger, lighting solutions and hide-away video screens.
Flexible display screens can be integrated into tables, chairs, or beds and deployed or hidden with the push of a button. Of course, these screens offer full internet connectivity and are fully interactive, as well. They can also be integrated with fleet and driver management systems to help drivers handle paperwork, watch safety videos, and take a quick test confirming what they learned afterward.
Programmable, ambient lighting systems can be used to accent various moods or activities in a sleeper. Drivers will be able to infinitely adjust the color, warmth, and brightness of in-cab lights for watching television, gaming or simply slowly lighting up the sleeper when the alarm clock goes off in the morning.
Truck drivers can even “decorate” their sleeper interiors with dazzling digital reproductions of fine-art paintings or photographs of family when the entertainment system is off.
AUO confirmed to HDT that they are currently in discussions with truck OEMs about the benefits of their display technologies.
The company has developed far more than just a pretty, modern, interpretation of a car or truck’s dashboard.
What AUO has done is come up with an entirely new, integrated way to boost communication both inside and outside of a truck. Moreover, the system promotes safety, helps drivers stay connected away from home, and allows them to work smarter and faster when they’re not behind the steering wheel. And AUO’s Smart Cockpit technology offers clear productivity and maintenance benefits for fleets, as well.