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Ford SmartGauge with EcoGuide
Visual interaction to simplify efficient driving techniques

Speedometer between the two LCD screens of the Ford SmartGauge.

Speedometer between the two LCD screens of the SmartGauge.

APN

30 April 2009.

 1000-Mile Challenge

Launching a new technology - such as the growing segment of hybrid cars - without preparing the public awareness to use it at its best, will always remain like trying to applaud with one hand.

There is always the owner handbook, but how can we adapt our driving style in every single moment to make the most of what our hybrid car was made for?

That's what the instant fuel consumption gauges gave us over the last few years, in our regular gasoline (petrol) or diesel cars, and that's what the new generation gauges, such as Ford’s SmartGauge with EcoGuide system, are here to do, since we'll have from now on the fuel tank and... the battery charge and recharge cycles.

After all, what is the point of buying a hybrid car if it's not going to be exploited for what it was designed for primarily: to drive most efficiently, or at the best performance/consumption point, most of the time, to get its best value-for-money and other psychological, safety and quality advantages that you can find in the Fusion Hybrid 1,000-Mile Challenge feature.

Ford SmartGauge: high-resolution, full-colour LCD screen (left side) can be configured to show different levels of information.

Ford SmartGauge: high-resolution, full-colour LCD screen (right side) can be configured to show different levels of information.

High-resolution screens show different levels of information.

The rationale behind Ford’s SmartGauge with EcoGuide is simple. Designed to help drivers to optimize performance of the 2010 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids, the SmartGauge guides the user with two LCD (liquid crystal display) screens on either side of the analog speedometer.

The two high-resolution, full-colour LCD screens can be configured to show different levels of information, including fuel and battery power levels, average and instant miles-per-gallon.

To develop the instrument cluster with an intuitive interface, Ford collaborated with IDEO and Smart Design, two world leaders in helping consumers connect with technology in a confident way.

“The main question hybrid drivers had was: ‘How do I know I'm getting the most out of my hybrid?’ ” said Jeff Greenberg, Ford senior technical leader. “We needed... a system that better communicates with drivers... That’s what SmartGauge with EcoGuide does.”

To put these principles in practice, the driver is first engaged by the SmartGauge displays, on either side of the centre-mounted analog speedometer, with a special greeting that combines illumination and graphics.

EcoGuide then uses a multi-layered approach to coach the driver to maximum fuel efficiency. A tutorial mode built into the display helps the driver learn about the instrument cluster and the hybrid.

Drivers can choose one of four data screens to select the information level they wish to have displayed during their drives. They are:

- Inform: Fuel level and battery charge status,
- Enlighten: Adds electric vehicle mode indicator and tachometer,
- Engage: Adds engine and battery output power,
- Empower: Adds power to wheels, engine pull-up threshold and accessory power consumption.

All levels can show instant fuel economy, fuel economy history, odometer, what gear the car is in, trip data (trip fuel economy, time-elapsed fuel economy and miles to empty) and coolant temperature with an indicator which turns green when the engine becomes warm enough to allow engine pull-down.

Ford says that at the core of the instrument cluster’s design was an understanding that the Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) experience evolves and deepens over time, and the technology needed to reflect that.

The four levels of information can be customized to fit each driver’s needs or situation. On the highway, only basic information may be considered necessary. In a city, additional information can be called from the system to optimize fuel economy.

Long-term fuel efficiency can be displayed as a traditional chart or using a display that shows “growing leaves and vines” on the right side of the cluster. The more efficient a driver is, the more lush and beautiful the leaves and vines, creating a visual reward for his / her driving efficiency skills.

Additionally, the real-time system feedback allows drivers to assess or modify their driving habits to achieve maximum fuel economy. Also, a shutdown screen reviews important information from the latest trip, including fuel economy performance and comparative data from previous days.

Prototype testing was done in Ford’s Virtual Text Track Experiment (VIRTTEX) simulator. While test drivers were interacting with the new technology, engineers were gathering data and refining SmartGauge to avoid drivers distraction.

“When you’re driving, you have a second or so to look at your display,” Greenberg said. “A dense display isn’t going to work. SmartGauge with EcoGuide is designed to minimize distraction caused by multiple displays. We (eliminated) extraneous movement and (designed) a smooth, fluid display.”

The instantaneous fuel economy gauge, for example, can be shown or hidden at each of the EcoGuide levels.

Greenberg added: “In VIRTTEX, for example, we learned that you can’t overlay multiple levels of information. One of our design goals then became to geographically separate the information so it can be better understood while driving.”

The times of comparing raw power and maximum speed figures is hopefully over. More civilised and clever skills are emerging with safety and environment in mind, and let the more refined win, in both dynamic and efficient driving techniques.

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