Digital gauge clusters are more than just a replacement for the analogue dials we’re used to.
Modern vehicles are extremely complicated. Even inexpensive cars are loaded with sensors that help to keep them on the road safely and reliably. Between the fuel level, oil pressure, air-to-fuel ratio, tire pressure, exterior temperatures, and door sensors there’s no shortage of data being gathered by your car. But you don’t always need to know all this information at once.
“Cars have so many sensors that if we were to display all that information to the driver, it’d take up a lot more space than the
dashboard,” said Andrew Poliak, Global Director of Business Development at QNX.
Context sensitive gauge clusters seem to be the modern approach. For example in the new Corvette, activating the car’s track mode provides information relevant to someone driving on the track. That means details like transmission temperature, oil pressure, G-forces and lap times are all available, while less important stats like fuel-efficiency are hidden from view.
When it comes to providing different layouts of the information, Poliak said that a digital dash “gives fine grain control over what [the driver] needs to know.”
In a less performance oriented vehicle, like in the latest offerings from Volvo, the digital screen can be switched to an ECO theme and provides a more in-depth visual representation of your current fuel usage.
Focusing the display
Instead of having a cluster with a ton of tiny gauges, the digital displays that many new cars use provide a focused approach by showing only the information you need for your given driving conditions. “We’re starting to see a ‘cockpit’ design,” says Poliak. This is a minimalist look that allows the driver to keep their eyes on the road.
This way, digital gauge clusters could feasibly prevent distracted driving, but too much differentiation between themes could confuse drivers too. Think how you’d feel if suddenly your speedometer or fuel gauge wasn’t in the same place it was 10 minutes ago, just because you’re now driving at highway speeds, or using an “Eco” mode.
Audi took people by surprise when it unveiled the 2015 TT with a digital gauge cluster and without the typical touch center stack screen.
“Well, one could argue that the Audi TT is more of a driver’s car,” said Poliak. “The passenger isn’t the focus of the car.” Instead, Poliak suggested that the QNX powered gauge cluster could use a connected feature to allow the passenger access to that information. “An external device could connect to the car and allow the passenger to see the navigation or change the playlist or radio station.” Poliak says this strategy could help keep costs down too, forgoing the need another display for the passenger.
More expensive or cheaper than usual?
These days, digital in-car displays usually come at a premium. It might come as a surprise, but screens like these will end up reducing manufacturing costs.
“Currently automakers have a ton of [traditional] gauge clusters spread out over their global lineup,” said Poliak. Different markets require different clusters – some for left-hand drive cars, while others are fitted to the right side of the cabin. Some have metric measurements, while others have imperial measurements. Some are big for cars that have lots of space, while others are small.
With a screen, much of that information can be changed via software, meaning you can use it for pretty much all the cars in an automakers lineup across the world. “Over time, it’ll bring down costs,” said Poliak.
Digital displays are increasing in availability. Dodge offers a customizable screen in many of its cars, including the affordable Dart compact. No longer available for niche and expensive cars, these screens could be in every vehicle in just a few years.