A cinema for drivers: Car control displays becoming ever more complex

Screens like the one here as part of the Mercedes MBUX operating system are taking up more and more space in the cockpits of modern cars. — Photo: Daimler AG/dpa

More and more car manufacturers are building huge displays into the dashboard of their vehicles - and not only in luxury models. Imposing displays are being crammed into even the smallest cars, such as the Renault Clio.

The latest trend is to replace the entire dashboard with a single screen.

“Customers today are more impressed by the size of the screen than by the size of the engine,” says Jan Burgard, from the car industry consultancy Berylls, linking this to the ubiquity of smartphones in modern society.

The Chinese manufacturer Byton was quick to react to this trend, and its M-Byte is considered the current record holder for screen size - there is not only a screen across the entire width of the car, but also a touch display integrated in the steering wheel and on the central column.

German manufacturers are catching up and Mercedes now wants to steal the show from the Chinese with a Hyper screen for the new EQS. When the electric alternative to the S-Class is launched in the second half of this year, its entire dashboard will consist of a continuous glass surface under which three screens merge, design chief Gorden Wagener has announced.

BMW has announced the next generation of iDrive, which is to make its debut in the iX e-car later this year, 20 years after the launch of the operating concept. It too relies on an XXL screen instead of many buttons, even if it’s not as wide as its rivals.

However, the industry is not only concerned with the screen surface, which in the case of the Mercedes measures a record-breaking 2.5 square metres, but also with the depth of the display. In the new Mercedes S-Class, navigation graphics appear three-dimensional with a depth effect that doesn’t require special glasses.

Continental, and the US start-up Leia have also opted for 3D displays. Leia says its screen will be ready for series production by 2022, and will feature apparently solid warning signs.

Along with all these driver-oriented screen landscapes, passengers are benefiting from improved on-board entertainment displays. In the Porsche Taycan, for example, there is an equally large screen for the passenger, and the Byton M-Byte and on the Hyper screen of the Mercedes EQS have also made developments in this area.

This isn’t something limited to the luxury end of the market. The new Citroen C4, for example, has a rather conventional cockpit, but surprises with a clever drawer above the glove compartment in which a tablet computer can be attached in a crash-proof mount which is invisible to the driver.

While the trend provides plenty of amusement, and excites designers like Gorden Wagener, it is also attracting critics. A court in Germany recently ruled that touchscreens can be as distracting for drivers as a mobile phone.

Critics also say fewer switches actually make cars more difficult to drive. In the new VW Golf, for example, almost all the buttons have been replaced with sensor fields, sliders and screens, and the car has been criticised in many tests for being very hard to operate.

“As long as cars have drivers, their attention must remain on the road,” says Guido Meier-Arendt, who researches the human-machine interface (HMI) for Continental. He believes that safety-critical functions such as the windscreen wipers, the hazard warning lights or the headlights should therefore always be activated with physical, fixed controls. – dpa

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