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A cool (and connected) cluster

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"The more we get connected,
Connected, connected,
The more we get connected,
The happier we’ll be."

Okay, I'll admit it, that's a little over the top. But even if connectivity can't make you happy, it can still breathe a great deal of enjoyment and productivity into your life. And when you build connectivity into devices that have previously stood alone, you open the door to all kinds of exciting possibilities. Case in point: the new digital instrument cluster for the QNX technology concept car.

Here's the cluster at a glance — click to see a bigger version:



Admit it: you'd love to wrap your hands around that steering wheel. I know I would. The Mercedes CLA45 is a sweet ride, and it inspired the QNX concept team to pull out all the stops when designing the new cluster with our partner Rightware, a specialist in UI tools for cars.

Four-point check
Okay, let's hop in and take a closer look. But before we put the car in gear, did your driving instructor ever tell you to do a four-point check? You know, where you make sure your lights, brakes, and other systems are working properly? You do remember to do that, don't you? The cluster makes the task a little easier by checking lights, tire pressures, fluids, and the HVAC system automatically:



Ease off the pedal, buddy
Time to put the car in gear. But before we do, let me tell you about the Plymouth safety speedometer. Designed to curb speeding, it alerted the driver whenever he or she leaned too hard on the gas. In theory, it was a great idea. In practice, it wasn't. You see, the year was 1939. And given the limitations of 1939 technology, the Plymouth safety speedometer couldn't take driving conditions or the local speed limit into account. So the speedometer always displayed warnings at the same speeds, no matter what the speed limit.

Connectivity to the rescue! Some modern navigation systems include information on local speed limits. By connecting the digital instrumental cluster to the navigation system in the car's head unit, the concept team was able to pull this information and display it in real time on the cluster, creating a modern (and much more useful) equivalent of Plymouth's 1939 invention.

Look at the image below. You'll see the local speed limit surrounded by a thick red circle, alerting the driver that they are breaking the limit — the fulfillment of an idea that has been 75 years in the making. Mind you, this isn't the only information that the cluster pulls from the head unit. It can also display turn-by-turn directions, trip information, album art, and other content normally relegated to the center display:



Should you answer?
Oh, hold on, the cluster is alerting us to an incoming call. You can ignore it, or you can answer by pushing a button on the steering wheel. And because this is the QNX technology concept car, it's no ordinary phone call. The car is equipped with QNX Acoustics for Voice, which supports Wideband Plus speech to deliver almost four times the bandwidth of a standard narrowband call. Translation: The person on the far end of call sounds like they're sitting right next to you.



Looking back
Okay, it's been a great drive, but time to head home. And in this case, home is the QNX garage. The garage doors are pretty narrow, and you need to back in carefully, so it's great to know that the cluster also provides a convenient window for the car's rear-view camera:



Meanwhile, in the real world...
Don't make the mistake of thinking this is a Buck Rogers scenario. Because the same combination of QNX and Rightware technology is already powering innovative systems like the Audi virtual cockpit. If you haven't yet seen the Audi system in action, check it out:



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