Going Graphical in the Cockpit

November 21, 2013 // By Klaus Neuenhüskes, Toshiba Electronics Europe
Adaptive and context-sensitive graphical instrumentation can now be found in an increasing number of mid-range cars, providing a means to manage and present information optimally to help improve driver control and safety. These advanced graphical dashboards also offer the potential for smartphone-like flexibility to customise and personalise the user experience. What makes a suitable instrument controller, capable of supporting further enhancements in the future?

Car makers are replacing or augmenting traditional dashboard instruments with virtual instrumentation rendered on a TFT-LCD panel. The result is not only a novel selling point, giving owners the ability to customise their user experience similar to “re-skinning” a smartphone, but is also effective in helping to manage increasing quantities of driver information more effectively.

As far as customisation is concerned, this emerging generation of in-car instrumentation gives car makers the opportunity to tailor vehicles for specific markets, or offer “limited-edition” models, cost effectively and with fast time to market. Owners, too, can enjoy the option to personalise the look and feel of the instrument cluster display, which may be sporty, luxury, economic, retro, or any other creative theme.

From a more functional point of view, the graphical instrument panel can adapt to prioritise relevant information depending on context. Examples include switching to a rear-looking camera feed during parking manoeuvres when other data such as speed and engine rpm are not needed, or temporarily overriding the instruments during “normal” driving to present high-priority warnings. In this way, graphical instruments help provide maximum assistance while avoiding driver overload.

In an increasing number of today's models, at market levels from prestige to lower mid-ranges, part or all of the instrumentation is now presented via a TFT-LCD colour display panel. Typical display sizes can range from 3-inch up to 8-inch (or larger in high-end models), and may be used in a variety of ways ranging from a small auxiliary display sitting alongside conventional main dials up to a fully graphical unit with virtual dials featuring rotating pointers, as figure 1 illustrates. Desire for larger display sizes capable of presenting more information in a user-friendly layout, and of giving stylists greater creative freedom, place increased demands on the graphics chips at the heart of the system.

Figure 1. Fully graphical instrumentation featuring large-size colour TFT-LCD panel.

Graphical-Instrument Control Challenges

A TFT-LCD controller capable of

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