Car of the Future Could Include Personalized Dashboards

Cisco’s customizable dashboard.

Cisco’s customizable dashboard allows drivers to configure their car’s dashboard by dragging and dropping icons, similar to using an iPad.
You can change the icons and the way they’re arranged on your personal computer at will. And you can change which applications appear on the initial screen of a smartphone. So why can’t you customize your car’s dashboard display? Cisco thinks you will able to do just that in future.

Many dashboards already rely on LCD and OLED screens (rather than fixed, mechanical dials) to display fuel levels, mileage and other information. Ford’s 2011 Fusion Hybrid lets you change what information appears on the driver’s display (and where it appears). The coming Chevrolet Volt has several options to display the car’s vitals, such as battery and fuel levels. But what Cisco envisions is much more advanced: a fully customizable, upgradeable, personalized dashboard.

Using three large side-by-side touch-screens to demonstrate the idea, Dave Evans, whose job description at Cisco is “chief futurist,” dragged and dropped items around an experimental car dashboard for me as if he were playing with an iPad. 

 To change the position of the fuel gauge, for example, he dragged it over from the screen directly in front of the driver to the center console screen, then adjusted its size with a pinching motion. To get a better look at what was playing on the sound system, he dragged that on-screen display from the far right screen to the center console.

“These are essentially widgets that you can add or move or change at will,” he said.
Software companies could even add new applications, like weather widgets and traffic information, he explained. Nearly everything on the Cisco dashboard can be customized and personalized. In another example, Mr. Evans used different key fobs to invoke differently themed dashboard displays: for her, pastel backgrounds and personalized Pandora stations; for him, a racing-themed black-and-red dashboard with an oversized tachometer and radio display. (One item you won’t be able to change much is the speedometer. Its precise position and size are prescribed by various government regulations.)

Naturally, Cisco sees secure, high-speed connections to Internet-based services as critical to this new kind of dashboard. “The car will be connected,” said Dirk Schlesinger, a senior director in Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group. He points out several advantages for carmakers, such as  the ability to upgrade a vehicle’s software remotely rather than having to bring cars into dealerships to adjust, for example, an electronic braking system.

Mr. Evans cautions that the Cisco dashboard is not a product destined for production, but rather a technical demonstration of “the art of the possible. It’s a platform for discussion.” Many original equipment manufacturers and automakers are discussing how to implement many of the ideas presented by such technology. The first steps are smartphone apps that work with cars, but many companies expect that the customizable dashboard will definitely appear in future vehicles. They just aren’t sure yet who will be in charge of it: customers, automakers or software developers.

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