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Simulation is the Key to Integrating Touch Sensors in your Next Vehicle

By Altair Partner Alliance | Fieldscale |

The automotive industry is undergoing a massive change. This traditionally slow-moving industry is pushed towards innovative products with significantly shorter development cycles than in the past. The main driving forces of this change are the latest emerging technologies, such as e-mobility and connectivity.
As a result, automotive interior designers and companies are eager to follow this trend and they are striving to give a facelift to the outdated interior of modern vehicles. The trend is to replace gauges with screens, and mechanical sliders and buttons with touch sensors (even combining the two into touch screens).

Top: 2018 dashboard, Bottom: left 1983 dashboard, right a 2008 dashboard. See how little it changed over 25 years and how much over just 10 years . Source: Wikipedia/AUDI.

This change is inevitable and it is coming fast. The Automotive HMI is turning digital and moving towards touch screen capabilities. Is the industry ready to support this new and complex technology?
One thing is for sure: automotive interior designers and engineers are going to face some serious challenges when creating the new HMI.
For starters, these challenges arise from the very nature of the automotive interior. Flat surfaces are rare in the interior of a car, so most of the touch sensors will need to be placed on curved surfaces, and therefore will be curved themselves. Curved touch sensors have been elusive for many years, even in simpler applications such as smartphones.
More importantly, since touch sensors will be the integral part of HMI, they will also be responsible for operations critical to the passenger’s safety. This means that they need to be validated and tested extensively to ensure that they will not fail under any circumstances.
Why is the industry not ready to support this change?
The touch industry still heavily relies on prototyping for new product development. This is expected to cause obstacles in the production of the sensors under investigation for three primary reasons:
  1. Manufacturers will find it hard to keep up with new, shorter design cycles, since prototyping is time-consuming.
  2. Curved sensors still require thorough investigation, due to high complexity. This means multiple design iterations, which means extremely high prototyping costs.
  3. Error-proofing a sensor under all circumstances is next to impossible to achieve solely with prototyping.
But why still prototyping and not simulation?
Since there are tools (namely multiphysics tools) out there that support the electromagnetic simulations needed to virtually prototype a touch sensor, why don’t touch sensor engineers adopt them? These tools have two main drawbacks:
  1. They have a steep learning curve. New-comers in simulation are often discouraged from using them because of this.
  2. They require expertise and time. Properly setting up a model (this process is called preprocessing) includes tedious tasks (e.g. meshing and applying boundary conditions). Preprocessing requires knowledge of the underlying physics, and when not done correctly can totally skew the results. Touch is a relatively new technology and not many have the knowledge to carry this task out.
These drawbacks make many touch sensor engineers steer away from simulation, understandably so.
New emerging trend: Democratization of simulation
Recently, a new trend has emerged in simulation that calls for its democratization. Democratization of simulation aims to eliminate the barriers to entry (steep learning curve and expertise) that prohibits non-experts from adopting simulation. To do so, tools that follow this ideology automate most of the demanding tasks of the preprocessing.
“To me, democratization is the non-expert,” said Sebastian Dewhurst, Director of Business Development at EASA Software said in a recent article of
Fieldscale SENSE: Touch Sensor simulation for the Non-Expert
We developed SENSE following exactly this new mindset: empowering more engineers to leverage the power of simulation for their touch sensor work, even if they have never experienced it before. Fieldscale SENSE is design and analysis software exclusively for PCAP touch sensors.
Behind its simple and intuitive UI, SENSE features extensive automation and powerful algorithms that allow experts and non-experts alike to start simulating their designs within minutes. No hand-drawn CAD. No meshing required. Just import your proprietary design and hit solve. Or even use our predefined, ready-to-use patterns from the library.
It can’t get any easier than that.
SENSE is available through the Altair Partner Alliance. Learn more about SENSE here!
This guest contribution on the Altair Blog is written by Ioanna Nella of Fieldscale. Fieldscale is a member of the Altair Partner Alliance.