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Expert Interview Series: Trends in Embedded UIs with Karlheinz Blankenbach

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Interview #1

The Crank Software team met up with Karlheinz Blankenbach, Electronics Displays Conference chair and professor, at Embedded World 2020 to chat about the trends and innovations he's seen in the embedded space.

Karlheinz Blankenbach is an experienced professor with a long history of working in research and development for HMI displays and LEDs including optical measurements and system design.

[Start of video transcription]

Karlheinz Blankenbach: Hello, my name is Karlheinz Blankenbach. I'm a full time professor and researcher of Pforzheim University in Germany. 

How have HMI and UX trends changed from the past to now and in the future?

Karlheinz Blankenbach: There are two mega trends we see with HMI displays. The first is the shrinking of embedded systems equipped with HMI displays. This HMI face, for instance, forces a round display and creates new challenges in terms of HMI and software development. That’s point one about shrinking embedded systems. Point two is highest resolution displays, full HD, for instance poses new requirements for computing speed for traffic controllers. And last but not least, the second trend. Software flow charts have evolved from wireframe HMIs to fully functional, latency free HMIs as we see here. To my understanding, the two mega trends that are popping up in the near future goes beyond HMI and are definitely seen in some current and upcoming industrial applications. Voice recognition, for instance, (you remember Alexa, and Siri), is one thing, but gesture control and all these other topics have to be embedded in software as well to ensure a strong user experience as we see here. 

How are HMI display trends changing for professional embedded applications?

Karlheinz Blankenbach: The vast majority of today's professional applications are equipped with LCDs as we see along here. LCDs have a lot of potential for the future like local dimming, faster response time, etc. But three other mega trends have caught my attention in the past.

One of them is OLED which is very famous for instance, in smartphones. A drawback of OLEDs for professional application is HMI because OLEDs can suffer screen burn-in for cross-aesthetic HMIs which are typically in the automotive or automation industry. This means the HMI has to deal with this burn-in in order to prevent those negative effects. 

The second display technology that’s on the rise for professional applications, is electronic paper like E Ink. The big advantage of e-paper displays is sunlight readability and low power consumption. However, they are not really able to show animations or videos, and don’t have great color reproduction. But for many industrial applications or for slow changing content in automation, they work great. 

Last but not least, as Embedded World and other professional accounts broadcast this more and more, outside lighting displays are progressing because of high luminance innovation. There's new technology called micro LEDs. These are tiny LEDs with the range of 30 micrometers each, so you can do both high resolution with them and second highest luminance to ensure outdoor readability, which was hard to deal with using LCDs. Micro LEDs enable far higher light intensity thus giving a much brighter, visible display even outdoors in sunshine. OLED, another type of display, might be forever impossible to reach 10000 candelas per square meter (cd/m²) for instance, for an outdoor signage display on a cap, because they are limited in brightness/ light intensity they can achieve. This is why it’s the future domain of micro LEDs.

There are a few other technologies that might pop up in the next 20 years, but I think it's too far from now to discuss. Yes, there are other development trends, but the three topics I mentioned; OLED, e-paper displays, and micro displays will really challenge LCDs and who will win at the very end. It’s not only a technical question but also a question of how great an HMI you can create with them. Thanks a lot. 

[End of video transcription]

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