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DETROIT – Auto makers are beginning to transition away from mechanical instrumentation and instead are adopting virtual displays at an accelerated rate, says a Fujitsu Microelectronics America Inc. executive.

“We were seeing demand only in high-level cars up until this past year, but OEMs are seeing the take rates for advanced (instrument panel) clusters to be much higher than they expected,” Dan Landeck, senior product manager-multimedia product, tells Ward’s at the Convergence Transportation Electronics Conference here.

“So we’re starting to elevate the numbers of the more advanced TFT (thin film transistor) combo displays, as well as pure TFT displays, which are sometimes called virtual displays.”

To feed the demand for full and partial TFT displays, Fujitsu has launched its MB88F332 Graphic Display Controller, codenamed “Indigo.”

The Indigo’s sprite engine is able to create bit maps and copy them onto a screen on the instrument panel to create different images that can be moved around or even animated, Landeck says.

Additionally, the display controller can be adjusted to create transparent images.

When TFT combos first hit the market, they largely were used to recreate traditional mechanical-based instrumentation.

“But what’s the point in that?” Landeck says. “That’s what we’ve been trying to tell our customers. Here you have this beautiful display, and you can do anything. You can let your imagination run wild.”

Auto makers are just beginning to grasp the full potential of such displays and are coming up with new and innovative ways to utilize the technology in order to differentiate their products.

“A lot of (auto makers’) design studios are starting to focus more on the interior and the displays,” he says. “You can have a lot more fun with it if you want to be creative. And that’s part of our task, too.”

TFT displays are able to project images of a variety of instruments, including navigation, temperature and radio controls, which create an added benefit for auto makers.

“(Auto makers) are really having problems with the heat from all the electronics in the dash,” Landeck says. “So we see that as an opportunity to reduce the heat and power, and you can have a single controller and have different cluster configurations.”

Price is still prohibitive compared with mechanical instrumentation, but the disparity is rapidly decreasing, he says.

There also are safety issues with TFT instrument panels, especially when it comes to important driver information, Landeck says.

“The cluster is safety critical, and the industry is still trying to define what happens if a cluster goes out,” he says. “This is not a problem when you have mechanical. But when you move into these virtual displays, there may be some issues with safety if they go out and people don’t know how fast they’re going.”