What Are Carbon Nanobuds (CNBs)?

Jon Lawson

Carbon nanobuds are a nanomaterial that enable 3D-shaped, smart touch surfaces. CNBs offer vehicle interior designers new opportunities to take advantage of 3D-shaped smart surfaces with physical haptic technology.

CND is a new nonocarbon allotrope discovered by the Technical University of Helsinki in 2008.  It consists of a single wall carbon nanotube with covalently bonded c60-fullerene on the side. Just like its fellow nonotubes and buckyballs, it has lots of extraordinary properties that could revolutionise many different industries.

It has taken several years to develop the manufacturing equipment and commercialise the nanobuds. 

How Are Carbon Nanobuds (CNBs) Made?

The carbon nanobud molecules are made in a special reactor, where carbon-based gases are introduced to a furnace at extreme temperatures. Inside the reactor the carbon breaks free and starts to form the CNBs. These are collected under the reactor and directly printed to the final substrate. This is called direct dry printing. The process, the synthesis and the carbon nanobud molecule itself are all patent-protected.

What Are The Benefits of Carbon Nanobuds (CNBs)?

Why Are CNBs Better Than 2D Displays?

There is an ongoing evolution in automotive interiors where physical dials and switches are being replaced by displays and touch icons.  The current solutions are 2D tablet-like displays that require a lot of focus when operating. However, there is a new nanomaterial available from Canatu, carbon nanobuds (CNBs) that enables 3D-shaped, smart touch surfaces. 

3D shapes help users to find controls without looking and are tactile and can be found by fingers, which decreases driver distraction.  Instead of 2D displays, the new kind of enhanced HMI design enables a 3D-shaped user interface, making the interior fully functional.

CNBs Offer Design Freedom

Due to the fact that there are no restrictions on the placement or form of functions, engineers can enjoy design freedom and create sleek interiors where controls are integrated seamlessly with the rest of the interior.

Smart surfaces can flow from door panel to information panel, across centre consoles, or sweep the  full width of the cockpit even up to the roof switched. This enables a living-room like space creation that will be dominant in the future of autonomous driving.

A multipurpose interface, where there are several functions under one control, saves space compared to mechanical switched which require separate controls for each function.  Thanks to the software based controls the user interface can be personalised depending for example on driving mode or user profile. Also, over-the-air upgrades of functionalities will be possible after the initial setup, enabling the option for OEMs to offer advanced features after the initial purchase of the vehicle.

CNBs Increase Display Readability

As Carbon Nanobuds (CNBs) are carbon-cased, they do not reflect or scatter light and they have low haze. This is especially beneficial when thinking about the display readability. Carbon also enables true black and crisp images for displays.

The transparent and stretchable CNB film offers light weight with good optical properties. It can be used with plastic, glass and even leather  and textiles. The 3D shapes can be added on top of displays and the surface can be transparent or black with a decorative layer. The transparency allows the functions to be backlit, either continuously or only when needed, so remaining hidden until lit Haptic feedback integrated into the functionalities increases the usability of the tough functions.

CNBs Keep Sensors Clear For Autonomous Driving

The material has very good electrical conductivity and it can also be used to heat up and keep Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) sensors clear.  Autonomous driving requires many kinds of sensors that collect information about the surroundings. Those sensors need to be fully functional whatever the weather to be reliable. However currently in cold or humid conditions cameras and lidars can easily be blocked by snow, ice or fog.

Nowadays LED front lights are becoming the dominant choice in cars, but do not create heat, so also suffer in poor weather conditions.  CNB based 3D shaped heaters can be seamlessly integrated to enable even heating of the surface without local hot spots.

The stretchable material can be thermoformed to any complicated shape and it can be either moulded or laminated directly to the surface, enabling seamless body design as well as 360 degree or fish-eye views.  The nanotubes and nonobuds fall in a curved and curled manner on the substrate and they slide over each other, enabling 200% stretchability and thermoforming with a 1mm radius.


Juha Kokkonen is CEO at Canatu

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