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3D Dashboards: Future, or Distraction?

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, in Berlin, Germany, have created a new variety of car dashboard and display system that attempts to give the driver all the information they require to drive, in a three dimensional, interactive format, rather than a collection of dials and flashing lights.

When switched off, it appears sleek, jet black, but otherwise unobtrusive. When the car ignition key is turned to the first position, even before the engine turns over, the display is active. The entire area behind, above and to either side of the steering wheel projects a volumetric display with a front and rear panel, and voxels appearing in between the two, delivering ever-changing information.

Tied into internal GPS, the display's initial configuration is set to user preferences, and like any modern PC based system, the various display attributes can be moved around, or overlaid on one another - nothing is fixed in place. Initial options include a three dimensional map of the location your car is in, centred on the car, and provided by Google Earth's data. An MP3 player menu superimposed on that, allowing track selection before driving commences.

. "The information most important to the driver at any given time is displayed in the foreground - be it the air pressure, the route or the title of the song currently playing," says HHI project manager Dr. René de la Barré.

So, if tyre pressure drops, or the car runs low on fuel, that information jumps out. However, they are free to customise other information that is displayed - a downloaded film perhaps, or visually scrolling traffic reports. Perhaps the textual accompaniment to a phone call using an inbuilt phone, or the latest BBC news. A rev counter and miles/kilometres per hour display are other optional extras - which can be removed from the display at driver preference.

So how does the system know which information the driver wants to see, and when and in what size? "Before setting off, the driver can choose how he wants the information to be displayed, and can save these preferences," René de la Barré explains. The depth images are made possible not by holography, but by stereoscopy - two cameras inside the car measure the position of the driver's eyes and the distance between them in real time.

Two superimposed images that generate the 3-D effect on the display are thus individually adapted to the driver's vision, by means not dissimilar at all, to single panel stereoscopic TVs.

The Worry

The worrying aspects are fairly obvious, immediately. With all this noisy, chattery clutter covering the display, drivers are quite likely to be looking at the dashboard more often than the road. Movement catches the eye pretty quickly, as do bright flashy colours. The display's colour scheme can be set to any user preference, no matter how garish, and of course the first cartoon a TV window shows is going to have the exact same effect - it will draw the eye's attention far more than the perhaps relatively boring road ahead.

Another equally worrying aspect is the ability to pick and choose what aspects you desire to have displayed. Deleting the speedometer 'accidentally' could become a regularly used excuse for speeding.

Its a nice idea, but does not seem to have quite been thought all the way through.

The researchers will be presenting the first prototype of the cockpit display at CeBIT in Hanover on March 3 to 8.


The cockpit of the future

Fraunhofer-Institute for Telecommunications, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut

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