DETROIT--Denso is a company that you may not have heard of, but chances are that you've heard of or even had your hands on its work. As the supplier of electronic components for a variety of automakers (such as Lexus' Remote Touch controller interface), we've learned that what you see Denso demoing today has a good chance to be on roads in the future. At this year's Detroit auto show, Denso showed off a concept dashboard that merged robotics, a smartphone app, and traffic infrastructure integration. OK, Denso. You've gotten our attention.
Let's start with the most obvious eye-catcher: the smartphone embedded in the dashboard. An app on the handset interfaces with the instrument cluster, allowing users to customize a variety of parameters. For example, we were able to choose from about a dozen custom skins for dashboard's the LCD instrumentation. However, some of these skins were more than mere styling upgrades, activating different functions as well.
For example, a coffee cup skin activates the driver attentiveness mode. In this mode, the vehicle speed is displayed at the bottom of an empty virtual coffee cup, while a small robotic camera mounted on top of the dashboard activates and watches the driver's face. This camera's software is able to recognize the human face and looks for signs that the driver may be getting sleepy. As the driver becomes fatigued, the virtual coffee cup starts to fill. When the cup is full, the instrument cluster and the vehicle's ambient lighting glow bright red and the robotic eye begins to chirp, warning the driver that they're probably too drowsy to drive. Meanwhile, the navigation system automatically searches for the nearest coffee shops and offers the first four as shortcuts on the touch screen.
Another example featured a city driving mode that aimed to increase driver safety and efficiency. The vehicle links into the traffic management infrastructure and monitors the cycles of nearby traffic lights. It can then assist the driver in maintaining optimal speed for clearing the most lights and let the driver know how long a red light will stay that way, helping with efficient use of brakes.
Denso's dashboard of the future is just a concept at this point. While we're not totally enthused about all of its features (such as the potentially distracting iPhone in the middle of the steering wheel), we can see some very neat ideas that would make future vehicles both safer and more interesting.