Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting



It Happened – Finally…

It was some thirty years ago, and I was attending the annual Society for Information Display (SID) technical conference.  This conference always opens with a keynote session consisting of several presentations by industry luminaries.  The presentation I still remember was by an executive from one of the major US car companies.  His presentation focused on how electronic displays were going to replace traditional dashboard instruments.   Not only did he predict the extensive use of displays, his company brought an exhibit that showed several concepts for electronic dashboards.  There was great enthusiasm for the use of various display technologies – even “heads-up” implementations comparable to those used in military jets.

About ten years later, I was once again attending the keynote session at yet another annual SID conference.  And once again an executive from a major auto company had been invited to give the latest predictions on how electronic displays were going to be used in the next generation of cars.  About half-way into his talk, I turned to my colleague and good friend Andy and asked:  “Didn’t we hear this same talk about ten years ago?”  Nothing had changed.  There was still great enthusiasm for electronic dashboards and the use of displays for various functions.  But it felt as if I were in a relativistic time warp. Ten years had passed for me but not for the automotive industry.  They had stood still – at least as far as any real implementation of dashboard displays or electronics.  Why?

Apparently, buyers were not as enthusiastic as technologists.  Electronic dashboards did not look at all enticing in the showroom.  Without power to light them up they were blank dark surfaces.  Certainly nothing sexy about that.   And it seemed buyers were also more comfortable with the appearance of clock-like mechanical gauges rather than digital numerical readouts. 

Then sometime shortly before the turn of the century -- the 21st century that is -- GPS came into being.  It was quickly accepted and put into use by many travelers.  The GPS units were stuck to windshields with suction cups or placed on top of dashboards.  It didn’t take long for auto makers to realize that they could make a nice profit by adding GPS units as a factory installed accessory.  And what an accessory it was!  To get a factory installed GPS, the price was in the $3,000 range.  Clearly a highly profitable item for the automobile manufacturers. 

Now, whether installed by the factory or stuck on the windshield with a suction cup, we were all beginning to get used to the idea that a display can be a very useful item in our cars.  However, since there is limited space in the center console, it was logical for manufacturers to begin to combine entertainment functions such as the radio with the GPS.  This led to further combinations such as climate control functions.  And after several years of increasing display integration we are FINALLY being led into the era of the electronic dashboard. 

The recent crop of cars have dashboards that still resemble the traditional clock-like speedometer and tachometer, but they are no longer mechanical.  The pointer is not a “real” pointer – it is an electronic image of one.  And yes, even the 30-year promise of “heads up” displays is now coming into wider use.  Having tried several cars with these new implementations, I’m not at all sure that it’s not more of a distraction than a driving aid – but it’s there for us to try and decide.   

So the promises that were “just around the corner” thirty years ago have finally become reality.  It took an external influence in the form of a new capability --  one that was not known to us at that time – to create the paradigm shift that allowed the changeover to finally take place.   Would it have taken even longer if GPS hadn’t come along?  That is an interesting question to ponder.

Should you have some thoughts that you would like to share regarding the evolution of automotive electronics, you may contact me directly from this site, by e-mail at or by telephone at 425-898-9117. 

In the meantime, have a great Holiday Season and may Santa bring you a shiny new vehicle loaded with all the latest in electronic gadgetry.   



19916 NE 30th Ct. Sammamish, WA 98074 Call 425.898.9117

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