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The Third Dimension



Continental is working with U.S. company Leia to develop a new 3D display for cars. This innovative technology from Silicon Valley will make driving not only more comfortable but safer as well.

June 10, 1915 is a date of historic significance – although one that today is largely forgotten. That was the summer’s day when the Astor Theater in New York gave a movie its first ever showing – a film that set a milestone in the history of cinema and of imaging techniques in particular. “The Morals of Marcus” was the world’s first ever movie to be made in what, at the time, was the groundbreaking technology of 3D. Directed by Edwin S. Porter before his rise to fame, this silent movie is missing today, presumed lost. But this brief comedy-drama captured on celluloid was to trigger the unstoppable rise of 3D. And today, 3D not only takes blockbuster thrillers like “Avengers” or animated movies like “Cars” into a whole new dimension. It’s also coming to an automobile near you. Continental ranks among the leading developers of a new generation of displays which, with the aid of carefully measured 3D effects, are bringing a new dimension of safety and comfort to the road. Unlike in movie theaters, however, in the car there’s no need for special glasses, and that’s thanks to an innovative technology developed in Silicon Valley.


3D effects without glasses

The Lightfield display permits comfortable 3D perception and presents contents and light effects with great precision. Photo: Continental


A bright red stop-sign hovers in front of the windscreen. Rows of houses emerge from the GPS system. The vehicle manufacturer’s logo rotates in midair in front of the dashboard. With three-dimensional effects like these, Continental is aiming to revolutionize the way displays are configured in cars. The technology company is currently working with Silicon Valley company Leia Inc. to develop an innovative cockpit solution: the Natural 3D Lightfield Instrument Cluster. Lightfield displays permit the comfortable perception of three-dimensional depth. The technology enables information to be safely presented to the driver in real-time, making the interaction between driver and vehicle more comfortable and intuitive – and thereby helping to realize Continental’s Vision Zero of a world without road fatalities, injuries and crashes.


A scene from the early days of 3D technology

In 1951, movie-theater patrons in London watch a film with 3D effects. Even today, special glasses are required to enjoy 3D in movie theaters – but not in cars. Photo: The National Archives, UK


The new Lightfield cockpit is an evolutionary step in the design of the  human-machine interface in cars. “One of the greatest challenges currently facing the automotive industry is to develop smart concepts for the human-machine interface − solutions that enhance the driver experience and allow the driver to interact with the vehicle easily and effectively without being distracted from what’s happening on the road,” explains Dr. Frank Rabe, Head of the Instrumentation & Driver HMI business unit at Continental. “With the new Lightfield display we are not only bringing a new level of 3D into the vehicle; we are also leveraging this innovative technology to create a new dimension of in-car comfort and safety.” The new system is slated to be production-ready by 2022.

Leia’s Lightfield technology that Continental uses in its 3D display has no need for a special camera to track and register the position and motion of the driver’s head – a practical advantage and one that cuts costs. What is more, the front- and back-seat passengers can see the same 3D image from where they are sitting – something that was previously not possible. The three-dimensional image produced by the Lightfield display is made up of multiple perspectives of the same object with subtle variations according to the position of the onlooker. So the 3D image remains aligned with the observer’s line of sight, making for the exceptionally natural presentation of information on the display. “With our Lightfield display, we have attained a whole new level of 3D imaging,” says Kai Hohmann, Product Manager, Display Solutions at Continental. “The decisive element for the image quality is a newly developed light guide with nanostructures. We simply bend the light and guide it to precisely where it is needed for the best possible 3D effect.” 


The 3D effect is created by a special method that involved bending the light through a screen. Photo: Continental


Continental is now adapting Leia’s technology for in-car use. Until recently, creating a 3D effect without the need for 3D glasses meant using either parallax barriers or lenticular lenses. But these techniques have implicit drawbacks: More often than not, the 3D effect is visible to the driver only, while the image quality can suffer in direct sunlight or the 3D effect can be restricted to a depth of just a few centimeters. For the automotive industry, however, the highest quality is imperative when it comes to displaying information. 

The new 3D Lightfield application, by contrast, offers a crystal-clear display, even in direct sunlight. Here, a newly developed diffraction-grating light guide with nanostructures ensures the precise bending of light behind the display panel – creating a natural 3D effect. The new display’s Lightfield projection has many potential advantages. Warnings from the driver assistance system are illustrated in 3D; directions from the navigation system can be presented even more clearly; and the  graphic display of the parking assistant – such as the 360-degree bird’s eye view – becomes truly spectacular in 3D. “It’s important