Steampunk to Star Wars: What will your next digital display look like? [video]

June 24, 2016

When we think of next-gen automotive technology, we often think of battery-electric vehicles, fuel cells, and autonomous driving software: the technology that gets from Point A to Point B.

But there are other changes a-brewing--changes that have less to do with the way our cars motor through traffic and more to do with the way that owners interface with their vehicles. 

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Over the past several years, we've begun seeing hints of these changes, thanks to larger and larger screens on our center stacks. Many of these screens are touch-sensitive and allow us to select music, adjust the a/c, and navigate through maps with the swipe of a finger. 

Instrument clusters haven't been quite that quick to change, but the pace of evolution may soon accelerate. One of the leaders in this area is Visteon, which has shown off a range of its Lightscape digital instrument clusters. They're interesting for a few reasons:

1. They're beautiful. As you can see in the video above, these high-resolution displays incorporate a full range of colors and movement. In fact, they're so nice to look at, we worry that some drivers might have trouble paying attention to the road. (Then again, in the dawning age of self-driving vehicles, that may not matter.)

2. They're customizable. Like your laptop's background image, your browser's color theme, or your smartphone's home screen, these displays can be tailored to user's preferences. Not only does that mean that the themes can change, but the information on display can be adjusted, too, depending on what drivers find important.

3. They're hardware-agnostic. As the Visteon rep explains toward the end of the clip, displays like these can be installed on a range of autos because they work without regard to the underlying hardware. That'll make for faster adoption among automakers.

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Like their analog equivalents, these displays aren't perfect. One poorly timed electrical or software glitch, and drivers might be left without access to speedometers and gas gauges. 

Still, there's no denying their gee-whiz factor. Sign us up for the steampunk gears, please.

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