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Optoelectronics/Displays??

Advancements in dashboard graphics

Posted: 10 Dec 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:TFT-LCD? dashboard instruments? colour display? microcontrollers? Graphic Display Controller?

A typical microcontroller for graphical instrumentation applications may feature a high-performance 2D graphics engine with Timing Control (TCON). Toshiba's Capricorn-Bt1 has a two-output Graphic Display Controller (GDC) with TCON support, while the Capricorn-Bt0 provides a lower-cost option featuring a single-output GDC. The graphics engine at the heart of each device has 2.5D capability with support for warping, blitting with alpha merge, rotation, scaling, drawing and special effects like perspective transformation (figure 3). The ability to support graphics with depth information, using perspective transformation, enables smartphone-like features such as 3D cover flows with mirroring effects.

Figure 3: 2.5D graphics support with perspective transformation enables clearer visual communication and supports features like 3D cover flows.

To help trim bill-of-materials costs, Capricorn-Bt0/1 implement a PNG engine, keeping the demand for memory to a minimum. The GDC and Graphics Accelerator (GA) can read data in PNG format natively either from internal or external memory such as connected Flash-ROM or RAM. This allows the system to decompress PNG images on the fly and display these directly as a background layer without requiring intermediate storage. In addition to reducing demand for local storage space, this also frees up memory bandwidth for the whole image processing path.

Capricorn-Bt0/1 provides the unique MagicSquare? dithering unit which performs spatial and time-based dithering for enhanced colour depth. This supports the option to connect a low-cost display with, for example, 18bit colour resolution, and achieve close to 24bit colour. This MagicSquare function has demonstrated a significant improvement in visual performance during tests with major automotive OEM brands, enabling crisp, clear graphics with improved contrast.

A dual-display interface is an increasingly common requirement in modern automotive instrumentation. This is to drive the display in the main instrument panel and another display, which may be mounted in addition in the instrument cluster or alternatively may be used to provide graphical information to a Head-Up Display (HUD). This feature is permeating some manufacturers' mid-range vehicles now, and allows the driver to survey basic information such as current speed without looking away from the road.

Automotive-grade security

For security, the instrumentation controller must provide effective protection against threats such as hacking and software manipulation. Microcontrollers such as the Capricorn devices, and others, provide this security by implementing the Secure Hardware Extension (SHE) as defined by the Hersteller Initiative Software (HIS) Consortium comprising major automotive OEMs. Implemented on chip as a hardware module, the SHE provides security that is inherently more robust than software-based approaches adopted in some general-purpose microcontrollers.

Conclusion
As today's car makers face the challenges of delivering new and exciting features matching the standards set by smartphones and tablets, and presenting ever-growing quantities of information to the driver in a clear and user-friendly format, adaptive and context-sensitive graphical instrumentation promises a high-performing and potentially cost-effective solution.

An all-in-one microcontroller featuring an application-optimised graphics engine, dual-display capability, industry-standard security and built-in stepper motor drivers giving the flexibility to control conventional dials as well as advanced graphical instrumentation provides the feature integration and flexibility that will allow graphical instrumentation to become more widely used. Value-added features such as perspective transformation can enhance the user experience and help encourage market adoption of the new technology.

About the author
As senior marketing engineer at Toshiba Electronics Europe, Klaus Neuenhskes is responsible for Automotive System LSI IC Product Marketing for Europe. Klaus holds a degree in Electrical Engineering and previously held positions at OKI Electric Europe and NEC Electronics.

To download the PDF version of this article, click here.


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