Next-gen car maps will be nowhere near the center stack

Look for a change in the automobile speedometer cluster, because maps will be appearing there soon.

car lead image
Credit: Nvidia

Yesterday’s Disrupter blog took a look at Android Auto, Google’s sleek new phone-to-car center-stack integration.

Android Auto is about to launch and was being soft-demoed for trade and press at the LA Auto Show. It elegantly drives video and audio from your phone to center-stack screen and existing speaker system.

Android Auto, though, wasn’t the only dashboard-driven excitement on offer downtown LA last week.

Apple’s CarPlay, an idea similar to Android Auto, but gloomy in comparison, was there; as was Audi’s entire-dash-as-touchscreen, in its concept big coupe called the Prologue.

But hidden away on a stand outside of the main drag, a striking and revolutionary virtual cockpit was being demoed. It’s coming in the 2015 Audi TT, and it’s something that I think will change dashboards forever.

Navigation in the speedometer cluster

Audi’s latest digital instrument display, which I was privy to get to play with, is loaded into the new 2015 Audi TT, and spectacularly shifts the usual-suspect mapping and navigation display from center-stack to instrument cluster.

The instrument cluster is the display right in front of the driver that usually features the speedometer.

The result, from Nvidia, is a logical and customizable display of information where it’s needed.

Thin Film Transistor LCD

Nvidia, which is known for graphics-friendly computer and tablet chips, says the virtual cockpit in the TT is powered by two Nvidia Tegra 3 processors. One is located in the glove box for the instrument and navigation, and the other is integrated into a 12.3-inch TFT, or Thin Film Transistor, LCD display directly in front of the driver.

TFTs are good at rendering a combination of analog-style gauges with high-resolution digital images, like 3D maps.

Materials Definition Language

Nvidia says its Tegra chips also allow for MDL, or Materials Definition Language. That means photorealistic rendering of materials like stitched leather and carbon fiber. Very tasteful.


But, matters of taste aside, what results is a stunningly useful map, along with analog gauges displayed right in front of the driver's field of vision. There’s no dropping of eyes-right to check the map on the center-stack. Nvidia and Audi place it where the speedometer usually is. There’s a reason taxi drivers place their third-party satellite navigation screens on the windshield.

Even though I was using a mock-up on a stand display—the actual 2015 TT was missing in action, being readied for the public in the main hall—it made a lot of sense to me.

I was able to control zooming functions easily with the i-knob, or whatever they call it. That’s the wheel-like knob between the seats that’s used to navigate the instrument cluster.


It would be easy to steer with the left hand and operate the instrument cluster knob between the seats with the right, zooming in and out on the virtual cockpit map and speedometer as you got lost in some unfamiliar German town being chased by the police—the speedometer is quite small, relegated to a corner of the cluster, and the hardest element to read.

All in all, though, I’d be willing to bet on this virtual cockpit idea as the future of instrument clusters. One day, we won’t remember maps in the center stack.

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