Traditional, fixed dashboard gauges — speedometer, tachometer, fuel — provide basic information to drivers. But VW engineers in...

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Traditional, fixed dashboard gauges — speedometer, tachometer, fuel — provide basic information to drivers.

But VW engineers in Palo Alto, Calif., are adding a “switchable” glass panel placed 8 millimeters in front of the fixed instrument cluster.

The glass panel consists of a thin layer of cholesteric liquid crystal sandwiched between two layers of glass.

When the glass panel is fully transparent, a driver sees the traditional gauges. But the glass panel is divided into segments that can each turn opaque to display alternative gauges on demand.

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In one mode, the speedometer and tachometer remain visible but the center display shows an upcoming turn in the road anticipated by the car’s navigation system. In another mode, only the speedometer remains, and a driver can see both a map and a list of possible commands on the panel. In a final example, all the gauges are gone, and a map of Laguna Seca Race Track shows an upcoming curve and lap times.

The alternative gauges are images projected on the glass panel by a digital light processor projector. Using a 7.8-inch screen with 600 x 800 pixels, it’s larger than any display being used in a Volkswagen Group vehicle.

The lab has created a dashboard mock-up to show the system. “The next step, by end of year, is to put it in a fully drivable car,” said Arne Stoschek, the VW lab’s head of displays.

— Matt Nauman, Knight Ridder Newspapers