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Examining advanced graphics in automotive instrument clusters

02 Oct 2012  | Michael Staudenmaier

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Some products offer also the possibility to check the consistency of the generated HMI and to generate documentation. Such features ease iterative development processes as well as last minute changes ensuring a high quality level. On top of that an up-to-date documentation is immediately available without extra effort.

HMI builders also have the potential to bridge the gap between the different graphic technologies by separating the actual representation from the HMI logic. This would allow generating simplified HMI on a low-end raster graphic platform and a fancy 3D HMI using the same HMI description. The re-use of the HMI control logic reduces the effort to implement and test this part of the HMI and ensure a consistent user interface between different product models.

A disadvantage of the integrated HMI design flow is the increased resource requirement. Solutions designed with such a tool usually require more memory and compute performance – both critical resources in the embedded space. Another drawback is the limited flexibility introduced by the standard elements of the design tool. This can often be overcome by designing a customer-specific widget class which has to be implemented in a programming language and imposes significant new effort for implementation, test, documentation and maintenance. An integrated solution commonly used in the automotive market is e.g., the Elektrobit HMI tool EB GUIDE.

State of the art HMI tools meanwhile even support solutions featuring multiple graphic processors to make optimal use of the compute performance offered.

As there are pros and cons for both design flows the decision to use a specific flow is always a tradeoff between hardware resources and development effort that has to be taken on a case-by-case basis driven by the cost target.

The graphic technology used in automotive instrument clusters offers plenty of new possibilities. Today most solutions focus on imitating the look and feel of mechanical instrument clusters. From the technological standpoint this is a challenging task that requires generating photo-realistic images in real time. Especially looking at 3D graphics this puts significant load on dedicated 3D acceleration blocks and even requires playing several tricks known from the 3D gaming area to achieve good optical results.

Up to now the increasing performance of graphic accelerators was partly compensated by higher resolution displays used in automotive. Soon the resolution of TFT displays is reaching or even exceeding the resolution of the human eye which might stop this trend unless techniques like 3D displays push the requirements even further.

Taking into account the further increasing performance of graphic accelerators rendering photo realistic images will become more and more feasible. The perfect outcome of such a rendered mechanical instrument cluster however looks like what was put in the car years ago.

Figure 4: Advanced Instrument Cluster HMI generated with EB GUIDE.

In the future significant effort will be put into the development of technologies to make use of the new capabilities for improved HMI ergonomics. This is a big field that can be actively used as a differentiating factor. The general idea behind potential developments is to present more complex information in a simple way.

Examples of such evolutions we already see in cars today are e.g. the economy display visualizing the driving style by the amount of green leaves on the display. There are many potential improvements foreseeable in that area like:

 • Skins: capability for the user to define the look and feel by providing individual skins.
 • Advanced HMI design, e.g.
 • Focusing the attention of the driver by using blurring
 • Active use of colors to attract the driver's attention. E.g. change color of the rendered speed needle when exceeding the speed limit.
 • Context aware displays: Dynamic partitioning of the display – depending on the situation flipping away gauges and show more relevant information for the given situation.
 • Driver distraction management: Adapting the information presented to the driver to the actual driving conditions to prevent accidents.
 • Augmented reality: especially head-up displays are well suited to actively overlay the reality with graphical elements in order to provide additional information to the driver or highlight critical situations like crossing pedestrians.
The consumer world demonstrated in recent years that the HMI is an important component for customers and revolutionary new concepts significantly changed the market. Although it is not foreseeable what will become standard in future cars it is obvious that the instrument cluster has the potential to make a real difference here. As it is the main source of information for the driver it has significant impact on the overall perception of a vehicle.

[0] Daniel Rice, Robert J. Simpson: OpenVG 1.1 Specification.
[1] David Blythe, Aaftab Munshi, Jon Leech: OpenGL ES Common/Common-Lite Profile Specification 1.1.12,
[2] Aaftab Munshi, Dan Ginsburg, Dave Shreiner: OpenGL ES 2.0 Programming Guide, Addison-Wesley
[3] OpenGL ES 3.0 Specification

About the author
Michael Staudenmaier received the diploma degree in electrical engineering from the Munich University of Technology in 1994. Since 1999 he is working as Systems Engineer for Freescale Halbleiter where he is responsible for definition and development of multimedia IP in the application area of consumer electronics and driver information systems. His focus area is the use of computer graphic technology in the automotive embedded space.

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