Feature Story

More feature stories by year:


Return to: 2010 Feature Stories


January/February 2010: Vision


By Tony King-Smith

Software Configurable Automotive DashboardsMoving quickly on new technologies has not been the automotive industry's strong suit. However, with electronic displays this might all change. Why?

With the exploding demand for LD, OLED and other flat-panels at high-resolution for high volume markets like mobile phones, netbooks, laptops and TVs, the cost of high-resolution displays has plummeted to levels never anticipated before. Manufacturers have recognized that a global chassis approach to car manufacturing delivers significant cost reductions if adopted in high volume worldwide; software configurable dashboards mean fewer changes from country to country.

The rise of advanced navigation as standard equipment, and the popularity of screen-based user interfaces means displays are finding their way into more cars from mid-range upward. Being able to configure more customer options at the dealership has major benefits for the retail channel, enabling more to be done locally at dealers rather than custom fit on a production line. That's good news for everyone in the car supply chain.

So, if there's a good argument to adopt a new technology that delivers cost savings while significantly enhancing your product's appeal, then that's a strong motivation to move fast. That's what we're now starting to see for electronic dashboards.

Recent research by analyst firm Strategy Analytics finds that smartphones are setting new consumer standards for user interfaces and multimedia experiences. :"Smartphones arguably have the most quickly developing HMI for a consumer multi-featured product, and will increasingly impact consumer demand and expectations for display performance within the vehicle," stated Chris Webber, vice president, Strategy Analytics Global Automotive Practice. Consumers have high expectations for the dashboard of their vehicle, even for low-end; the display must be highly responsive, extremely clear and very easy to use.

That means graphics must be fast and drive high-resolution panels. Imagination Technologies has seen dramatic rise in interest for its POWERVR graphics acceleration technologies, which are now in many chipsets from leading automotive chip suppliers like Freescale, Intel, NEC, Renesas and SiRF.

These systems utilize advanced 3D graphics techniques, sometimes combined with high-speed vector graphics, to deliver the high-quality, fast response, imagery needed by dashboards.

Demand breaks down into two distinct types of dashboard display:

  • Classic, where the emphasis is on photo realism, and the graphics are used to render a display that looks like the physical instrument familiar to users today.
  • Modern, where the functions like speed, revs and torque as well as indicators are displayed in modern graphics not unlike what you would expect in a sci-fi film.

The ability to also change the look of the dashboard according to model type or even by user opens up a whole new world of user configurability -- always a desirable feature for the car world.

The displays can be used for a wide range of video applications with video decoders and encoders already being used in applications as diverse as rear cameras, car proximity detection and security -- as well as for displaying movies and TV, although not while on the move!

By combining a high-performance graphics processor with video, engineers are exploring powerful new applications such as augmented reality for head-up displays and navigation point-of-interest recognition. This is now a practical, cost-effective reality, thanks to the mobile phone and computing industries bringing advanced graphics technologies to new price points that make sense for automotive product planners.

Imagination also is working with other industry leaders like Navteq to develop next-generation navigation solutions that take advantage of these possibilities, as well as leading car manufacturers worldwide, to get these new features into users' hands as quickly as possible.

Tony King-Smith is vice president of marketing for Imagination Technologies Group plc (www.imgtec.com; LSE: IMG). The company is a global leader in multimedia and communication silicon technologies.

Return to: 2010 Feature Stories