Friday, August 7, 2009

Context aware displays – “Can you see me now”

I was just reading an article in the Economist describing “the connected car” One point in the article got me thinking. Specifically, it mentioned a modern car having as many as 200 on board sensors or microprocessors “measuring everything from tire pressure to windscreen temperature”.

Modern vehicles now are gathering so much information and have access to not only data relating to the car, but to location, speed, points of interest, music, traffic, . . . the problem suddenly becomes how to communicate this information to the driver in a relevant and safe way. This emphasizes the recent explosion of automotive interest in digital displays that can reconfigure information being portrayed based on context, or what you are doing at the time. An example of the most advanced display of this type can be found in the recent announcement by QNX and Visteon about their work on the 2010 Range Rover cluster “...the largest TFT LCD ever to ship in a vehicle”. You can read more about it here:

Basically, information can now be configured to display what is relevant to the driver at a given time. For example, when the car is put into reverse, rather than display tachometer information, a rear backup camera can display the image of what is behind the car, or perhaps when the Range Rover is in 4x4 mode information about the terrain can be displayed. Additionally, vehicles with new fuel technologies have all new types of information that can be displayed relating to fuel savings, best route to conserve battery, all kinds of “green” information that can be displayed. I can promise you the new Volt will have a digital display.

Another revolution is driving the adoption of these brilliant displays in vehicles. The revolution of a joyful user experience, arguably started by Apple (iphones, ipods, macs, etc.), is making its way into your automobile. Apple didn’t create the first MP3 player, heck I had an RCA Lyra in the early 1990s. What Apple did was make experiencing digital music easy and “joyful” oh and legal of course. The iphone took this a step further and made complicated information relevant to location, interests, search, social networking, photography, etc. also easy and pleasurable to experience.

Major vehicle brands have taken note. Not only will you be able to get access to a variety of information, when you need it, but also you will see vehicle brands embracing the latest user interface technologies to capture a bit of the magic that comes from making an experience visually pleasing and easy to use. These new reconfigurable displays will do just that. So get ready, your speedometer is about ready to get a major facelift.