I've been blogging about digital instrument clusters as if they're strictly next-gen technology. But the truth is, they've already gained a foothold in some high-end vehicles.
Case in point: The very sleek and very desirable Artega GT. It uses digital gauges powered by the Fujitsu Jade SoC, a processor that supports QNX's digital cluster software. (I don't know what software the Artega uses, btw.)
According to Fujitsu, the Artega GT cluster has "one large central mechanical gauge with all the other instruments rendered graphically by Jade and projected onto the LCD. This requires a [graphics] controller able to produce sophisticated 3D graphics -– right down to the shading around instruments -– to make them look like a mechanical gauge."
The following image gives you an idea of what Fujitsu is talking about:
It's hard to tell from such a small photo, but the gauges do indeed look more mechanical than virtual. To enable this trompe-l'œil, the Jade integrates several features, including a rendering engine for 2D/3D graphics acceleration, a geometry processor for smooth graphics animation, and support for 6 independent graphics layers.
The multi-layer support is key. For instance, it allows the system to render speedometer needles on one graphics layer while rendering the speedometer background on another layer. As a result, the graphics controller can redraw the quickly moving needles without having to continually redraw the entire speedometer. The result is a flicker-free display.
Having a modular, memory-protected operating system like QNX Neutrino also helps. For instance, it allows a user-space process to render the needles in OpenGL ES (a 3D API) while a separate process implements the background graphics in Adobe Flash. This approach ensures that the needles will continue to operate even if a failure occurs in a Flash-based component.