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Printed electronics: Key technology for the car of the 21st century

Whether it is OLED taillights or sensors and heating elements in seats: The use of printed electronics is increasingly becoming the standard in the automotive industry. The next chapter in this sector will focus on the interaction with increasingly complex information and entertainment systems—especially with regard to autonomous driving.

With the use of OLED lights, organic and printed electronics made the first real appearance in cars—currently in the form of taillights with increasingly fascinating designs. No other light source offers such an enormous freedom of design as OLEDs thanks to their ultra-thin and flexible construction. Inside the vehicle, OLEDs with their homogeneous light enable impressive ambient lighting.

Printed sensors and heating elements have been proving their worth in vehicle seats for some time now. They register whether a seat is occupied and, if required, they provide for heating. Other current application examples include electrochromic dimming mirrors, glass roof elements and deicing windows.

One area that is still in its early stages is the interaction between passengers and future information and entertainment systems. While computers in cars are taking over more and more routine tasks—soon also the driving—occupants will, for instance, increasingly take advantage of a wide variety of entertainment offerings. Printed electronics make it possible to seamlessly integrate appropriate interfaces such as touch sensors and displays at almost any place in the vehicle interior.

Organic solar cells (OPV) integrated in the vehicle also offer interesting options. In the roof area, for example, they can generate the required emission-free electricity so that ventilation of the vehicle when parked in strong sunlight is ensured and the interior gets less heated.