Instrument Cluster

What Is an Instrument Cluster?

An instrument cluster is a collection of dials and gauges that typically sits behind the steering wheel, giving the driver a range of information about the vehicle’s status. All vehicles have an instrument cluster or some instrumentation in other locations within the driver’s eye line.

Benefits of an Instrument Cluster

Aside from regular driving activities such as steering, accelerating, and braking, the driver must also monitor vehicle status, including current speed and fuel level or remaining battery capacity for an EV. The instrument cluster enables this, so the driver can ensure their vehicle doesn’t run out of fuel, break the speed limit, and that the engine doesn’t spend too much time revving inside the redline zone.

The instrument cluster also assists the driver by providing further status details, such as warning lights for oil pressure in an internal combustion engine, tire pressure, or ADAS alerts. Safety is maximized by keeping the driver informed via displays located in readily visible positions without them taking their eyes off the road for more than a moment.

Typical Gauges and Dials in an Instrument Cluster

An instrument cluster can include the following:

  • Odometer
  • Speedometer
  • Fuel level/remaining battery capacity
  • Rev counter (internal combustion engine)
  • Power/regeneration level (electric car)
  • Current drive mode or selected gear level 
  • Indicators
  • Headlight status, including whether main beams are on
  • External temperature
  • Engine fault warnings
  • Tire pressure
  • ADAS warnings
  • Temperature for an internal combustion engine

How Instrument Clusters Work

Traditional instrument clusters had each dial or gauge wired to the sensor for which it displayed data. This could be a direct connection, but in modern vehicles, the data is routed through a central ECU to share it with other systems. For example, the fuel gauge may be directly connected to a sensor in the tank, but if this information is fed through an ECU, it can provide additional utility, such as a readout of the remaining miles the fuel level equates to.

Historical data can be collected by a modern vehicle’s ECUs and computer systems running a real-time operating system for automotive. The dials and gauges may be supplied via integrated vehicle networks, enabling features such as trip meters showing average fuel consumption or mean speed during the journey to be updated live as travel progresses. Digital instrument clusters enable greater customization of the information displayed. Head-Up Displays (HUDs) can also show a subset of data from the instrument cluster.

Instrument Cluster versus Digital Cockpit

The traditional instrument cluster populated with analog dials and gauges has set functions, with each readout performing a dedicated job for the driver. In many cases, the scales are pre-printed on the dials so that units of measure cannot be changed (such as mph versus kph), and there may be calibration errors.

But digital instrument clusters, HUDs, and infotainment screens that feed into a digital cockpit provide greater customization. The driver can choose dynamically whether speeds are shown in miles- or kilometers per hour. They can select whether the digital instrument cluster shows navigation information, media playback details, or the trip meter. With a digital cockpit, the various displays in the vehicle can work together, enabling the driver to view the data they want and where they want within the car. A sophisticated, integrated automotive computing platform with cloud connectivity, such as BlackBerry IVY® , dramatically enhances this flexibility.

As the developer of BlackBerry® QNX®, we are one of the leading organizations in the Software-Defined Vehicle space. For more than forty years, we’ve worked tirelessly to build safe, reliable, and secure embedded systems. And we’re not stopping there—in addition to investing heavily into autonomous vehicle research, we’re also working to enable the connected car.

That’s where BlackBerry IVY comes in. Leveraging BlackBerry QNX, edge computing, and the cloud, BlackBerry IVY empowers developers and automakers with a secure, reliable way to share vehicle data, deliver new features and functionality, and fuel innovation. BlackBerry IVY is compatible with most platforms and shares close ties with BlackBerry’s broad development community.

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