We’re more used to seeing small, brightly-coloured screens on our laptops and cellphones, but now they're coming to our cars, too.
At the moment, you’re more likely to find the multi-coloured multimedia screens in the central dashboards of premium cars including Audis, BMWs and Mercedes.
These TFT — Thin Film Transistor — screens that show navigation, infotainment, driver-information systems and rear-view-camera displays were once the preserve of premium cars, but they’re now becoming more democratic.
As more people buy smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles, expect to see more of these multipurpose screens in the dashboards of the Opel Corsas and Ford Fiestas of this world.
Most amazingly of all, they are now migrating from the middle of the dashboard to a position in front of the driver, where the instrument cluster that includes speed, tachometer and fuel levels is.
A great example is in the Jaguar XJ, where a 30cm, high-definition TFT screen replaces the traditional physical dials with a virtual display. The screen can show speed, revs, fuel levels, temperature and so on, but is also a display area for the car’s multimedia and infotainment systems, driver assistance systems and navigation map. It can even change look and colours according to what mode you’re driving in, highlighted with dynamic red when you’re in sport mode, for example. This reconfigurability means different information can be displayed at different times, something no analogue display can do.
And in the future? High-resolution colour TFT displays may yet take over the entire instrument cluster and dashboard and become the headline act for all the car’s information systems. Large reconfigurable display screens will offer more room and more flexible functionality. The recent Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell concept may yet be an accurate indicator of the way this technology will grow.
As the screens get cheaper to produce, they are set to get even larger. In the E-Cell concept, almost the entire centre stack was a 25cm touchscreen such that the usual array of HVAC and audio switchgear was consigned to history.
Among the challenges to how many ways the screen can be used is safety — obviously it’s not a good idea to drive with loads of different pieces of information flashing up on your display.
The other is driver behaviour. According to reports, most drivers feel more comfortable with old-fashioned ‘real’ dials and buttons rather than virtual ones. Maybe we’re not as comfortable with the future as we think we are.