How Can Surface Illumination Be Used in Cars?

Ask An Engineer_Eric_Q221
Welcome to the second post in our new blog series, Ask an Engineer, in which we talk directly to our engineering team about their work at Azumo and what’s next in display tech.
This week, we spoke to Eric Blair, Director of Special Projects, about how Azumo is solving problems with surface illumination in automotive applications.
Below, Eric shares what engineers need to know about lighting in automotive projects and some exciting new use cases for Azumo tech in the auto industry.

What are the main considerations for engineers when choosing a display type to spec for an auto design?

Something I hear all the time from OEMs is that auto displays must be more reliable than consumer displays.

Temperature ranges have to be broad, brightness requirements are significantly higher, and there are specification requirements for different vehicles.

Think of how we look at our screens in direct sunlight. If you’re outside on a sunny day and you need to look at your phone, you can just turn your back to the sun so that your screen is shaded. You can’t do that in a car when the sun is beaming onto the dashboard – and the display also needs to be able to withstand baking in the heat.

Which parts of an auto design might benefit most from innovative surface illumination?

When people talk about displays, they think of cell phones and computers. But a display is just a means of communicating information visually – there doesn’t have to be an active screen behind it.

The main question for auto engineers is: how do we want to display information? How can we use surface illumination to get that information across?

All surfaces of a car can benefit from being illuminated in some way to transmit information or improve visibility. On the interior, you might use light guide films, LCDs, or frontlit displays to illuminate:

  • Door panels, to signal doors left open.
  • Center consoles, to minimize eye strain for the driver.
  • Pillars, to improve lighting for backseat passengers without obstructing the driver.

While on the exterior of the car, you might illuminate:

  • Decals, to relay important information to fellow drivers, such as a “driver in training” sign.
  • Logos, to improve car identification for services like rideshares or for brand differentiation.
  • Grill areas, to maximize front-facing visibility or fog lights.

Surface illumination also has the potential to improve the overall experience for vehicle passengers. You can integrate color-changing lights to control the mood at night, for example.

What are some common stumbling blocks in surface illumination design in vehicles?

Auto engineers often run into roadblocks when glass is involved.

For legal and aesthetic reasons, whenever a display technology is built into glass, it must be completely transparent when the illumination is not being displayed. There are only a few ways to do that: by projecting an image onto glass, which only works in certain lighting conditions and can be blocked by passengers, or through displays within the glass, which tend to be cost-prohibitive.

Azumo’s light transmission tech solves these challenges with ultra-thin light guide films that are totally invisible when off and can’t be obstructed by occupants.

Another key advantage of Azumo’s light guide film is that it’s inherently flexible. On other car surfaces, like the center console, you need curved plates. And curved plates tend to be more expensive and hard to design. Our films can go on just about any surface imaginable and they’ll conform easily without impacting the uniformity or visual aesthetic.

What should auto engineers know about using Azumo tech in their designs?

Our surface illumination solutions don’t require a huge design team to reconfigure the tech into an existing project. They’re built to be seamlessly incorporated into the hardware you’re working with.

We can create our products as quickly as you can print labels for packaging, which makes them highly suitable for auto manufacturing at scale. There’s no need for extensive tooling or processing materials to bring this technology to life.

I think there’s incredible potential in the automotive market, both commercial and consumer, for OEMs to find really creative surface illumination use cases. We can improve the lighting on the exterior of emergency vehicles to maximize daylight readability. We can make decorations and decals on trucks more vibrant in all lighting conditions. The industry is ready for this technology.

If you want to learn more about how you can apply Azumo surface illumination products to your next auto design project, reach out to us at

Eric is the lead physicist and serves as the technical director for special projects at Azumo (known as “Ghostworks”). He also works closely with outside manufacturing and our research partners. Eric has over 15 years of experience as a research engineer and is a former lecturer in photonics. Eric holds an MS in physics from the National Center for Excellence in Nanoscience at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland.



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