Next-generation cars will be a lot more sensitive to touch if a Finnish company has its way.
"Our vision is that any surface can be smart," said Juha Kokkonen, who is CEO of touch films specialist Canatu.
The 14-year-old company's solutions are already in production, but Kokkonen cannot say in which vehicles they will be used in, nor for which brands.
Canatu wants to make car displays 3D instead of the 2D versions that are common today. It wants to do this by using its proprietary Carbon NanoBud material that Canatu says can be stretched more than 200 percent, and it can be bent and flexed in radii tighter than 1 mm (.04 inches).
Canatu is a spinoff from Aalto University that was started by four professors, one each from the U.S., Finland, Russia and China
The company's work with German supplier Continental on a 3D touch surface won an award at this year’s CES in Las Vegas.
This link shows the system in action.
Canatu is also collaborating with Faurecia and Denso, which each own stakes in the company. “They have seen big potential with our technology so they are supporting us and we are working together to bring products to the market,” Kokkonen said.
One Canatu-Faurecia project is with Daimler on a concept door panel that has an integrated transparent, thermoformed touch sensor display to operate the window and seat functions via a panel that remains black until needed.
Canatu is also working to put touch functions into a car’s leather surfaces while a third product in the portfolio is a solution that make sure lidar sensors don’t fog or ice up without causing a massive drain on the car’s battery.
Kokkonen says this is a key feature especially for EVs because in some cases 10 percent of their energy is used to defrost the windows compared worth conventional solutions.
Profitable by 2020
Asked whether Canatu is making money, Kokkonen said: “Last year we had more than 30 projects with the automotive industry. But you know it take three to four years to get a product into a car. I see us being profitable in two years.”
That is fast considering that from its founding in 2004 until 2010 Canatu was more academic-focused, studying materials and manufacturing processes and getting its ideas patented. It started recruiting employees in 2008 and taking in money from external investors soon after.
“The suppliers started speaking with us in 2016 and became shareholders in 2017,” Kokkonen told Automotive News Europe.
When Kokkonen arrived in 2016 from Nokia and Microsoft, where he led high-end smartphone products and an innovation lab, he made the automotive sector Canatu’s No. 1 focus.
“I learned [during my time at Nokia] that only companies with a crystal-clear focus were successful,” he said. “If you are a small company you have to focus on something and do it better than anyone else.”