Click on the SmartGauge empower display for a high res gallery

A few months ago, Ford unveiled the new eco-friendly instrument cluster called the SmartGauge in the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids. Since there's no new car to highlight right now, Ford though it'd be a good time to give the world a bit of history on how the SmartGauge was developed.

To make those famous leaves appear when the car is driven in an efficient manner, Ford worked with Johnson Controls as well as IDEO and Smart Design. IDEO helped Ford observe people and found out how they measure efficiency. We know also know that it was Ford graphic designer George Macon who came up with the idea to use leaves on the LCD screen, connecting the driving experience with Ford's hybrid logo on the back of the vehicle. More importantly, Ford discovered - like other automakers - that with instant fuel economy information at their fingertips, drivers drove more efficiently. If you want to learn more, there's a press release after the jump, or you can head over to the nearest Fusion or Milan and use the SmartGauge's tutorial mode.

[Source: Ford]


PRESS RELEASE:

DEVELOPMENT OF FORD'S INNOVATIVE SMARTGAUGE DRIVEN BY CONSUMER INPUT, PARTNER COLLABORATION

  • SmartGaugeTM with EcoGuide is a unique digital instrument cluster designed to coach Ford hybrid owners to maximize fuel efficiency
  • Leading suppliers and design firms helped Ford researchers, designers and engineers create the breakthrough car/driver interface
  • Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids are the first production cars to have "self-help" capability built into the cluster

DEARBORN, March 25, 2009 – Praised by Motor Trend magazine as a "brilliant interactive creation," Ford's SmartGaugeTM with EcoGuide digital instrument cluster puts the automaker in the driver's seat of an important new technology trend in hybrid electric vehicles. This innovative feature uses instantaneous power and fuel consumption data to coach owners of the new 2010 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids to drive more fuel efficiently.

Ford researchers, designers and engineers collaborated with IDEO and Smart Design, two world leaders in helping consumers connect with technology, as well as technology supplier Johnson Controls to design and develop the unique instrument cluster.

SmartGauge's high resolution, full-color liquid crystal display (LCD) screens can be configured by the driver to show different levels of information, including fuel and battery power levels, as well as average and instant miles-per-gallon. Taking a design cue from Ford's hybrid leaf logo, Ford graphic designer George Macon developed an animation of growing leaves and vines that tracks and rewards the driver's efficiency.

"No other automaker is leveraging LCD technology in the cluster to the extent that we do," said Paul Mascarenas, vice president, Engineering, Ford Global Product Development. "It is much more interactive and integral to the whole driving experience."

In fact, the SmartGauge cluster became an unexpected competition for Ford's test subjects, who tried to outperform each other and themselves in fuel efficiency.

Consumer input in design process
Design research and rapid prototyping proved critical to the development of the SmartGauge. The Ford SmartGauge team, in close collaboration with IDEO, observed dozens of consumers in their homes, cars, and communities to gain insight into how people measured efficiency in different areas of their lives. Some were hybrid car owners, but many were not. They spoke with people who live in "green" homes and even met with a calorie-counting tri-athlete, who described his ideal coach as one that offers positive encouragement.

"Every person the team talked to helped us better understand how people interact with their vehicles and what kinds of features they wanted," said Randal Visintainer, executive director, Research and Advanced Engineering. The idea of the car coaching the driver became a core principle during our early prototyping that fed directly into the final product."

Early on, SmartGauge prototypes included multiple levels of cluster information in order to accommodate the varying information needs of different kinds of customers, ranging from hybrid newcomers to "hypermilers." In the final design, drivers can choose one of four data screens, including:

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

All levels are customizable to show instant fuel economy, fuel economy history, odometer, engine coolant temperature, what gear the car is in and trip data, including trip fuel economy, long-term fuel economy and miles to empty. And while most competitive vehicles have some of this information in the center stack, Ford has made it user friendly and right in front of the driver where they want it.

Two other user-friendly elements are SmartGauge's dealership demo mode, which offers a quick overview of the cluster's benefits to prospective buyers, and the owner tutorial mode, which is a more in-depth look at its features and functions. Johnson Controls helped design the demo and tutorial as well as SmartGauge's "greeting" sequence. Fusion and Milan are the first production cars to have "self-help" capability built into the cluster.

Unconventional thinking drives development
To prepare a prototype for testing, the team used aviation cockpit engineering software, because it offers the best combination of design and simulation capability.

The SmartGauge team also used Ford's state-of-the-art advanced driving simulator, Virtual Test Track Experiment (VIRTTEX), to "test drive" a virtual hybrid in realistic digital environments and show the technology at scale. VIRTTEX testing also helped the team identify design issues fast and demonstrate the technology to Ford decision makers.

After all the work with design partners and testing at VIRTTEX, Ford's design and release engineers readied the cluster for production.

"Watching this technology come together was one of the most exciting things I've ever seen at Ford," said Mascarenas. "Everyone really was feeding off each other to push the bar. We knew we had the ability to take the instrument cluster to where no other automaker has taken it before – and we already have strong ideas about where to take it in its next generation."

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About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 213,000 employees and about 90 plants worldwide, the company's wholly owned automotive brands include Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Volvo. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford's products, please visit www.ford.com.