Despite the total flexibility of a digital dashboard, for now they tend to look a lot like the physical dials and gauges that have been in use for generations. No one is suggesting this is actually the best way, but few have actually gone about designing something better. Until now.
The award winning designers at ustwo (of Monument Valley fame) believe that the instrument cluster can be so much more than a readout for speed and RPM. It needs to embrace new ways of thinking as well as new technologies – in its current form the dash is feature rich but context poor. For example, a modern digital dash could help increase a driver’s situational awareness with alerts and other situational updates.
Of course it needs to do it in an intuitive way that reduces driver distractions, so ustwo have built a system that carefully selects the right information to show at the right time.
Digital dashboards also have the possibility to use new face tracking technologies. For example your dash could analyse your sitting position and adjust the view for each individual driver. Check out the interactive face tracking demo for yourself here.
An example of proposed upgrade is a dash that shows you the most contextually relevant information to what you are currently doing. For example, when you get in the car it would show the range you have remaining and if you can make it to your next destination.
When you shift into gear, the range information is moved over (but remains visible) in favour of a large graphical speed indicator. Slippery road conditions or speed warnings can be shown by altering the colour and texture of the speed indicator, showing a safe speed.
The maximum speed for the area is always the top number on the display and if you exceed this the indicator shifts through orange and red, depending on the potential danger. Switch into reverse and the screen automatically shows a camera feed to help you safely back up.
It sounds almost simplistic, but watch the video below to see how intuitive it is in action.
To test the idea beyond a demo video, ustwo built a virtual prototype with different digital dashboard layouts. They are actually interactive, so you can try it for yourself here. Ustwo have also made the source code and design assets available so anyone can develop and improve on the idea.
The digital dash is built around some core ideas, which ustwo see as the key elements to building a better instrument cluster.
Speed: Speed shown in relation to the local speed limits and other parameters, such as weather, with appropriate feedback
Range status: Combining elements of a fuel gauge and range shown both as absolutes and in relation to the next journey
Contextual alerts: Both based on location, time (school zone, slippery roads, traffic conditions) and where the alert originates from, for instance HUD (above) or centre.
Reverse: Rear-view camera takes over screen while reversing
Gears: Consistently positioned and present at all times as is the legal requirement
Car instrument cluster LCDs don’t have to be boring rectangles either – Sharp has announced a new technology called Free-Form Display which can produce edgeless screens in all sorts of interesting shapes. The digital dash layouts could be adapted to different vehicles and branded by manufacturers to give a unique experience.
LCD screens might seem like an overkill, high tech choice, but according to ustwo, they actually reduce costs compared to a mechanical setup and make the entire instrument cluster easier to replace and repair.
Ustwo has put more thought into the design than you would have thought possible, covering everything from how different fonts fit the visual angle for drivers, to how colours and other visual cues perceived.
To delve into all the deeper design and development, head over to the ustwo blog.