When it comes to car interiors, Leather seat covers tend to be favored due to their feel and their durability. They’re a classic option for people looking for a something to keep them comfortable for their drives.
A Japanese material provider, Mitsui Chemicals Inc., has found a way to move these classic fixture of vehicles into the future. The manufacturer recently developed a form of artificial leather that can be used for Leather seat covers, with the capability to display information, while retaining the attributes that make leather for vehicle interiors so appealing.
The product, dubbed ‘Milastomer’, was revealed to the world at the 2019 Yokohoma Automotive Engineering Exposition, taking place in May. This artificial leather provides long-term durability and resilience, is resistant to abrasions, scratches, and luster, while still being able to transmit light, and allow for the projection of images beneath its surface.
To display this new material, Mitsui Chemicals created two prototype interior parts; an armrest, and a dashboard. Both of these products were setup, providing dynamic information with characters and logos lit from beneath the surface thanks to a micro-projector.
The Milastomer thermoplastic elastomer is made using a mix of polypropylene and olefin-based rubber, which means that the material can be tailored for elasticity, touch, and durability, as needed. The armrest prototype was made with assistance from the Osaka company, Arm, and consisted of a touch panel stacked on top of a transparent urethane structure, which itself covers a small projector, with this whole assembly covered by Mitsui’s new artificial leather. When the display is disabled, the armrest’s surface resembles any old-fashioned leather upholstery, resembling the look of the car’s seats. Only when lit does the small projector stand out, letting people use its interactive interface through the artificial leather surface to access car controls, like audio selection and air conditioning.
These two prototypes are a demonstration of what this new artificial leather can do. Similarly, other parts of a vehicle’s cockpit that’s typically covered by leather upholstery can be covered by Milastomer, allowing them to become interactive surfaces that can be used for greater access and interactivity, provided, of course, that the component allows for the integration of a small projector.