A fluttering speedometer needle because the shaft needs replacing? Trip meters that get stuck and only continue counting if you give them a knock? To the younger generation that must sound like granddad’s stories from the war. Today dashboards are digital, displays are touch sensitive and optical analog instruments are straight out of a graphic designer’s toolbox. That still feels a bit weird. Because it’s still unfamiliar, and it’s still difficult to trust such sophisticated electronics in a car. At least for me. But I’m happy to be convinced over the next few years.
By then I definitely still won’t be able to afford an S-Class though; we’re just sitting in one doing some real-life testing. It’s all display in here, with more computing power and a higher resolution than NASA’s supercomputers from 10 years ago. Clear, high-contrast instruments. No, not instruments really, they only look like them. After all, people are creatures of habit.
The digital clock, an aerospace by-product, found its way onto wrists quite successfully in the 80s. Small, flat and cool. Even though they’re still around, if you really want to be hip you now wear an analog, mechanical automatic watch the size of a cereal bowl. Time and time again manufacturers have tried to fit displays into cars. The displays in Kadett GSIs or Omega CDs that are so tiny they require binoculars are highly sought-after as part of the retro wave today, but back then people rarely bought them. Numbers to indicate the speed? Colorful, rising bars as a fuel gage or rev counter? How unusual. They were banished to the ancillary instruments or they enhanced unspectacular small cars as central instruments. You can’t really call them successful.
Will everything be different now? Digital hipsters are once again going to record stores and buying vinyl. And in cars we see more and more displays – which take the shape of analog instruments though. Quite cool. Virtual reality? Virtual analogy? The new flagship from Mercedes takes things to extremes and presses ahead. Two displays next to each other, the instrument cluster and the Comand display. Both with diagonals of 12.3 inches and a resolution of 1440 x 540 pixels, showing everything we’re used to in high resolution and high contrast. They simulate the speedometer and rev counter, show warning lamps and provide information on how your car is doing. The satnav screen looks like a 3D flight simulator with real buildings and landmarks; cameras at the front, at the side and at the back send a picture to the central console if I yet again can’t quite judge the size of my car. Everyone’s dream really.
Driving isn’t what it used to be 20 years ago. But that’s okay. I’m excited and I’m looking forward to what will happen in the future of electronics. We are only at the beginning, and my eyes are open and my mind is ready. Maybe displays will soon be able to simulate vintage car instruments. Wouldn’t that be cool? Whether all that will be as durable as an old V6 cast iron block from a Cologne factory remains to be seen. In any case, the team from Osram will be there all the way and will always keep you up-to-date about the latest developments. Or should I say enlightened? Well, something like that.