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Dashboards That Promise to Do More Than Inform

Technology Dashboards
The dashboard of Chrysler’s 200C recognizes gestures.

APPARENTLY it is not enough that large segments of the population seem to be hard-wired to their iPods. Judging by some displays at the Detroit auto show, the car, too, is becoming an extension of personal electronic devices, more like an Apple iPhone than a complex collection of mechanical bits.…..

The multitalented displays arriving now are more than mere decoration, say the human-machine interface experts who engineer cars to work more effectively with people. Rather, they are the next stage in evolution for autos interacting with owners – and concept cars like the Chrysler 200C extended-range hybrid showed that future in compelling form.

A driver entering the 200C sees an oval swoop of dark curved glass instead of a conventional instrument panel. When the vehicle recognizes the driver – it uses a connection with a smart communicator like the iPhone – a glowing “on” switch appears. A touch of this starter button begins a greeting that can include anything from personal photos to a navigation screen.

Brad Gieske, a designer who works on interior electronics at Chrysler, said the concept is more about making the car connected than it is about any particular piece of hardware. He said that designers were frustrated both by the dull rectangular display screens in current autos and by the size and format limits of smart phones. “We wanted to take the square out of the center console,” Mr. Gieske said. “We wanted to make it about technology, but at the same time we wanted to make it beautiful, to make it elegant.”

The dashboard controls use technology that recognizes gestures such as touching and dragging a fingertip across the panel; the display and the animations of a virtual trackball control are the work of Chrysler. The basic patent behind the touch-screen hardware comes from Nartron Corporation of Reed City, Mich., a maker of touch screens for automotive, military and consumer electronics uses, said Norman Rautiola, Nartron’s founder. Mr. Rautiola said he was certain that a system like this would rapidly find its way into new cars. It is likely to be far cheaper in the long run than mechanical buttons and switches, he said.

“Once you’ve designed that beautiful series of circuits behind the display, all of that interface is available for hundreds of functions,” Mr. Rautiola said.

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