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It’s not something most drivers think about (unless there is a problem) – the fonts on their in-car navigation systems, infotainment systems and other human-machine interfaces. But it is a critical feature which determines both ease of use and aesthetics.

Helping automotive engineers, designers and product managers take control of their human to machine interface (HMI) designs is Monotype, a global leader in typeface technology.

In January 2015 the company introduced its Monotype® Spark™ solition which enables designers and engineers to create a product with high-quality scalable text interfaces in lowend platforms with limited run-time memory. “Today’s consumer demands a high-quality user interface (UI) on their devices – whether it’s the dashboard in their car, their new wearable fitness device or medical device like an insulin pump,” says Geoff Greve, vice president of type operations at Monotype. “Until now, designers and engineers were limited in their ability to create a flexible, scalable text display in low and mid-end devices without doing a substantial amount of work or investing a lot of money in additional hardware or memory. Our new Monotype Spark solution not only makes the type on these devices more beautiful, but it also enables product manufacturers to keep development costs low and create an easy path to scale devices to support new languages and character sets in the future.”

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Dave Gould, director of product marketing for Monotype to tell us more about Monotype Spark.

Gould: In a nutshell, The Monotype Spark solution brings the power of scalable type to screens of any size or resolution – ensuring that type looks good on every screen. With the Monotype Spark solution we’re able to give an OEM’s user interface a more modern look and feel, while keeping hardware/memory costs low. iType Spark software enables designers and engineers to scale and render glyphs from TrueType® font files, complete auto hinting in real time, and create monochrome and 8-bit grayscale outputs – using a much smaller footprint than traditional solutions

WorldType Shaper Spark provides the necessary shaping and support that OEMs and suppliers will need to accommodate world languages. WorldType Shaper Spark easily integrates into existing technologies, eliminating the need to re-architect the current layout and rendering technologies. Fonts included with the product are Latin, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Arabic

AI: Does this open opportunities in the lower end of the market?

Gould: Yes, designers and engineers can now produce beautiful, legible and scalable text interfaces and infotainment systems for products like low- to mid-end automotive clusters and displays without the worry of investing in additional hardware or memory. The Monotype Spark solution allows designers and engineers to create low-cost, highquality interfaces that enable scalable, smooth text and support various languages and font sizes in low run-time memory configurations.

AI: How did your auto solution, created for high end heads-up displays, auto clusters and infotainment systems, adapt to low to mid-range cars?

Gould: We developed Monotype Spark in response to a customer request. We had a supplier working on a project for an OEM manufacturer, and the supplier wanted a solution that offered scalable text without the need for additional hardware and CPU memory. We took two of Monotype’s popular software technologies for higher end automotive clusters and displays, iType and Shaper, and re-architected them to address the constraints relating to small run-time memory, code size, and CPU platforms.

We determined early in the process that getting the engine to work using such a small amount of memory would require significant changes to the software. We also knew that some of these changes could adversely affect the rendering quality and, potentially, the performance of the solution. That said, the first step we took in architecting the Monotype Spark solution was to work in extremely low-memory conditions. We established memory and performance baselines, along with thousands of reference images of characters from various fonts and languages that customers could use with automated tools later on to check for rendering anomalies.

The next step was to identify and remove all but the absolute core functionality from the engine. When completed, all that was left was engine initialization, setting font and size information and getting glyph and metrics information. For any basic text rendering systems these are bare-essential features required to scale and render text from a standard TrueType font file.

Once we had a functioning font engine with all the necessary features, we turned our attention to our baseline data, code analysis tools and the expert eye of native language readers. In parallel, the development team identified areas of memory-intensive code that and rewrote them to use less memory. Simultaneously, our quality assurance team ran comparison tests of the new font engine output against our reference images looking for anomalies that were unacceptable to the native reader. All anomalies were addressed by a new lightweight runtime hinting technique created specifically for this engine. In the end, many of the code changes necessary to achieving the smaller memory requirements centered around how the font tables were handled during processing. For example, a font file consists of many tables linked together internally. To process this data, the Monotype Spark solution does not load these tables into runtime memory. Instead, it will read the data directly from the font file located in read-only memory, thus eliminating the need for large amounts of runtime memory at the expense of reading from slower read-only memory.

AI: What challenges does Monotype anticipate in connected cars?

Gould: In the connected car, instrument clusters and infotainment systems must deal with unpredictable text because it’s coming from an outside, online source. Therefore, the font solution needs to support international language capabilities and full character sets, in addition to scalable, highly legible fonts.

The automotive cluster and display markets are both primed for growth. In the connected car, instrument clusters and infotainment systems must deal with unpredictable text because it’s coming from an outside, online source. Therefore, the font solution needs to support international language capabilities, full character sets, in addition to scalable, highly legible fonts. The way we see it, OEM and Tier 1 suppliers will need the following to accommodate consumer demand:

  • A cost-effective way to make the jump to scalable text without increasing the cost of the platform (memory, CPU)
  • A flexible solution that supports complex scripts and uses minimal memory
  • A solution that allows them to easily design, implement, make changes to font/text
  • A solution that is easy to integrate into an existing platform without additional costs to do so
  • The ability to work with more languages and text sizes
  • A path to grow, enhance their product line
  • The ability to make text look smooth on color displays
  • Access to industry leading, highly legible typeface designs

The Monotype Spark Solution helps address these requirements and:

  • Reduces runtime memory and leverages a fully scalable solution to achieve high quality text in various sizes and languages
  • Offers larger character sets enabling customers to scale a product line quickly, cost effectively
  • Helps customers deliver a more flexible solution in a lowercost platform configuration – providing Tier 1 OEMs a competitive solution against other Tier 1 OEMs
  • Provides upgrade path for customers looking to create a scalable product line (low end – high tier) with different levels of script handling
  • Helps engineers and designers get product to market more quickly, by providing more flexibility in responding to customer requests as it pertains to fonts and languages

AI: How will your research study with MIT help formulate future strategies for your automotive customers and languages?

Gould: Research sponsored by Monotype and performed jointly by Monotype and the MIT AgeLab, points to the potential importance of choosing the right typeface design when legibility at a quick glance is important. This research and the expertise of the Monotype team can provide insight to customers designing automotive devices such as automotive clusters and head-up-displays.

AI: How is Monotype helping designers to meet legislated distraction guidelines?

Gould: Legibility is the key to an effective automotive typeface in a glance-based environment. Monotype’s involvement in legibility and automotive research has helped inform the industry on the ideal typeface attributes for use in the car. A glance-based legibility test can be utilized to help designers and engineers balance the subtle tradeoffs between typography and interface characteristics, while seeking to optimize the demands placed on the driver. With the advancing use of digital displays in vehicles, efforts to objectively evaluate legibility and different interface characteristics may help automakers better meet governmental distraction guidelines, while providing the driver with an enjoyable experience from the showroom to the road. Full results of the latest legibility studies are available as MIT AgeLab white papers.

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