Overall, the report outlines the current status of printed/flexible electronics in all aspects of automotive design and manufacturing, along with the expected future opportunities created by the technological transitions represented by electric vehicles, increased levels of autonomy, and product differentiation shifting from the powertrain to the interior/cockpit. The opportunities specifically for printed/flexible electronics in vehicle exteriors, says the firm, range from transparent heaters to solar panels, and benefit from attributes as varied as transparency, conformality, low weight, and tunable absorption spectra:

Hybrid SWIR image sensors for ADAS – To ensure safety, ADAS systems and autonomous vehicles will require as much input data as possible. Imaging in the short-wave infrared (SWIR) spectral region is especially promising since light scatters less at longer wavelengths, enabling objects to be identified at longer distances in fog or dust. The incumbent technology for SWIR image sensors is prohibitively expensive, so innovative technologies are required. Coating silicon read-out circuits with either organic semiconductors or quantum dots, says the firm, is a highly promising approach.

Integrated antennas – As vehicles become increasingly connected, multiple antennas are needed to cover the multiple frequency bands used for various applications. These antennas need to be integrated into plastic body panels, opening opportunities for in-mold electronics and printing onto 3D surfaces. In the future, transparent antennas – using conductor materials such as silver nanowires, carbon nanotubes (CNTs), fine metal mesh, or even very thin layers of particle free ink – could also be installed on windows.

Exterior lighting and displays – As the level of vehicle autonomy increases, vehicles will need to interact with pedestrians. Low-cost printed/flexible displays are ideally suited to this purpose, as low weight, durability and conformality (including in an accident) are all more important than resolution. Possible approaches include printed LEDs, and mounting LEDs on flexible substrates.

Transparent heaters for exterior lighting/sensors/windows – Since cameras and LIDAR sensors in autonomous vehicles or ADAS systems will always require a clear view of the road, it is essential that the transparent cover over the sensor must be kept free of mist/frost – a significant challenge for electric vehicles, which generate less residual heat than traditional combustion engine vehicles. Further, thin metal lines could obscure the view of these safety critical components. As such, developing transparent heaters that use transparent conductors such as silver nanowires or CNTs is needed, says the firm. Over time these technologies are likely to fall in price, enabling them to be applied to windows as well.

Printed/flexible photovoltaics – While photovoltaics will never be able to power a car continuously over a long journey, says the firm, they do enable around 30 km of distance to be added each day. At present electric vehicles with solar panels use silicon photovoltaics, but thin film photovoltaics such as those based on organic and even perovskite semiconductors are a promising alternative due to their lightweight and conformality. Conformability is especially important if solar panels are to one day coat the entire exterior surface of the car, as unlike rigid flat silicon panels, there would be no need to compromise on styling or aerodynamics.

For more, see “Printed and Flexible Electronics for Automotive Applications 2021-2031: Technologies and Markets.”

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