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Smartphones on wheels

John Day

John Day

Posted Nov 20, 2009

How long will it be before we start referring to car dashboards as a user interface, or is it already happening? It seems like only yesterday, and probably was, that automakers were concerned about offering hands-free Bluetooth. Now it’s smartphone connectivity. Cars are fast becoming another network node. An extension of our connected consumer electronics lifestyle; where we want to do whatever we can do anywhere else, electronically speaking.

It’s no surprise, then, that automakers are paying more attention to displays these days. Screens are prominent in most new car ads, and they are getting larger. Visteon this summer announced that, with help from several partners, they developed a 12.3-inch display for Jaguar Land Rover’s Range Rover.

Screens can be personalized; perhaps not quite to the extent that a PC desktop can – yet – but Range Rover owners can customize the system warnings and vehicle information displayed in a message center, and they have some control over the virtual speedometer and gauges. More information is available, including, in the Range Rover, steering angle, wheel articulation, suspension settings, and “Terrain Response” settings. The instrument cluster can reconfigure itself dynamically as the vehicle shifts from one drive mode to another.

“Integrating larger and more complex color displays is cutting edge in driver information systems today,” says James Farrell, Visteon’s senior manager for driver information. “This allows automakers to bring the consumer electronics experience into their vehicles, which is a growing expectation of the driver.” 

“We knew we had to create a way for people to interface with their vehicle that was more manageable and limitless in its ability to incorporate new innovations as they come,” adds Gary Braddock, Ford’s group chief designer, referring to the human-machine interface (HMI) developed for the Lincoln C concept vehicle. “Our HMI had to create for the auto world what the mouse is to the PC world.” The vehicle’s steering wheel controls use five-way mapping (up/down/left/right/OK) similar to that found on cell phones and MP3 players.

It all seems to be going one way – consumer electronics conventions to the vehicle, and not the other way around. What I’d like to see is something on a computer similar to the leaves and vines displayed on Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids to reward efficient drivers. How should we reward efficient computing?



Visteon, Human-Machine Interface (HMI), Bluetooth, Mercury Milan, Range Rover, Jaguar Land Rover, Lincoln C Concept Vehicle

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News ( to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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