Look ma, no speedometer on my car dashboard
Come to think of it! How many times do you keep staring at the glass panel behind the steering wheel? Until the autonomous car is on the road for you and me, we will have to continue to watch the road, enjoy the scenery and then toggle the infotainment cluster for navigation, weather report, radio, music playlist, climate controls etc. But check out the tachometer or temperature indicator? Nah! Not many times, right? Thought so!
If you have been following what's happening at the recently concluded CES in Las Vegas, you would know how fast our digital life is changing and how far it is evolving. With ubiquitous gadgets and clearer & smarter TV screens, it was just a matter of time before our cars woke up to the digital revolution as well. So don't look surprised when I tell you that Visteon Corporation launched their connected audio solution for a global vehicle manufacturer by delivering Bluetooth, voice control and integrated smartphone connection to Cloud applications. They also showcased a connected vehicle software framework that is intelligent enough to anticipate a driver's need and then produce a Human-Machine Interface (HMI) experience. This would be akin to turning an imaginary knob in the air to control the audio volume. Another example would be follow-the-gaze in which the gauges appear at the side where the driver is looking. Such HMI experience, when combined with driver behavioral data and preferences allows the HMI to not only intelligently display the most relevant information using applications and other environmental inputs but also at the right time. Even Panasonic Automotive Systems is building a dashboard that has all the gauges and controls behind the steering wheel and within the instrument cluster. This could also be reflectively displayed on the windshield such that the driver need not move the direction of his eyesight. This makes it redundant to have separate touchscreen panel for infotainment and gauges, doesn't it?
Now look at your mobile phone or tablet or even the laptop on which you are reading this blog. You have a home screen, a background wall paper, a screen lock wall paper and different color options. We all set the preferences based on what we feel is most meaningful or appropriate to us. It could be a family portrait or a celebrity close-up or a beautiful scenic waterfall. We see what we want to see on these devices. If that's the freedom we get on our mobile devices, then why not in the car? The functional needs of the various gauges on the typical car dashboard viz. Tachometer, Speedometer, Odometer, Fuel gauge, temperature gauge, seat belt indicator, door open indicator, etc. have a limited and conditional need. Hence, this information is not required all the time. Now, how about adding a character to the visualization and personalizing it like we do to our mobile phones. How about giving it flair and charisma? Feeling good already?
Not many in the automotive industry will argue that the digital world of a consumer outside a car is very quickly merging with the one inside a car. This is what the connected car intends to do by making it an extension of the digital world. Imagine if the same could be extended to the dashboard as well. Think of it as a changing wall-paper. Instead of a cumbersome instrument cluster and a central console hosting the touchscreen panel & controls, we could see a more simple design of having a single screen within the car that displays the requested information. This will also be event-triggered such that if the temperature increases to an abnormal level, then the temperature gauge will show up or if the speed is exceedingly high, then the Speedometer will show-up and so on. There could also be gesture controlled or voice controlled or native buttons on the steering wheel that will bring the required screen on display. Of course, customers will have an opportunity to connect a USB drive or connect to the cloud to change the wallpaper display of the 'normal' screen. This has an added unique advantage as well. In India which is one of the countries with the largest number of road accidents, an experiment on government run transport buses showed that drivers drove more cautiously and safely when a picture of their family was put up on the dash. Using the same, a family portrait could be displayed on the dash by connecting the mobile or USB drive.
Already, last week Audi showed a dashboard on its TT model which had an integrated dashboard showing the gauges as well as navigation all in the same view. This has been termed by a few experts as an 'overload of beautiful information'. But naysayers apart, this will be the future. Consumers will be allowed to choose what they see on their dashboard. It is exciting times for automotive companies and their Tier 1 electronic partners. Radical changes within the cockpit are to be expected in the coming years and our perspective about the inside of a car will change drastically. What do you think?