Custom dashboard displays drive innovation in human-machine interface

02 June 2022

A fully customized display can offer a unique user experience while meeting the needs of the machine itself. (Photo: Delta Systems)

Today, many people have an expectation that the feel and functionality found in their light-duty pickups and SUVs will be found in every type of machine they operate — from ATVs to UTVs, riding mowers to skid steers. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) understand an improved human-machine interface (HMI) can make jobs simpler and equipment operators’ lives easier.

Digital dashboard displays are driving innovations in HMI throughout markets where dashboard designs have historically not changed that often. Today, outdoor power equipment and compact agricultural or construction equipment designers are shifting away from the customary indicator and switch arrays to a touchscreen solution that brings an array of data to one accessible viewpoint, merging functions and minimizing clutter to refresh the look and feel of the dash space.

A fully customized display can offer a unique user experience while meeting the needs of the machine itself. The challenge is often in the development of a solution that differentiates the end product and excites the user while avoiding the cost of unnecessary functionality.

Laying out a strategy

“While automakers enjoy myriad options for outfitting the newest vehicles with a dash-mounted display, manufacturers of outdoor power equipment do not benefit from the same broad selection,” said Tony Aboumrad, vice president of engineering, Delta Systems, Streetsboro, Ohio. “Many of today’s off-the-shelf solutions can satisfy basic requirements, but also saddle manufacturers with costly embedded features that provide little or no added value to end users. Often, displays are designed to differentiate motor vehicle interiors as opposed to meeting the harsh demands of hardworking, hard-playing machines. A durable IP67-rated touchscreen dashboard display that is customizable and does not come with expensive bells and whistles is not easily found.”

In the search for improved HMI systems to incorporate into new machine designs, Delta Systems recommended that engineers start by seeking a custom assessment of product needs to help guide them throughout the development process.

“The right design partner can help you lay out a strategy that coordinates approaches and pulls together market-specific insights,” said Tony Nohra, Advanced Technology Manager, Delta Systems, “to ensure your dashboard display will deliver the functionality your users want, the ruggedness that is required for outdoor use and the economy that comes with paying only for critical features.”

The company said that by asking the right questions, the answers will help guide the development process to reach a desired outcome. Engineering teams already familiar with user experience design can also benefit from creating a roadmap to the ideal solution.

“Regardless of the time or resources you can dedicate to the project,” said Nohra, “there are different levels of support available to those seeking a light assist to full backing for a completely designed display and graphic interface. The consultative process with your design partner should focus on form, fit, function and cost considerations.”

According to Delta Systems, some of those considerations include:

1. Location of the display and mounting options

  • Replacing a standard gauge cluster with a touchscreen may necessitate further design changes that are not apparent at first.
  • There are various sizes of touchscreen displays in the market. Being aware of how much dash real estate is available is an important step.
  • Integration of multiple displays into a single touchscreen display can save space.

2. Conditions to which the machine will be exposed

  • It is challenging to design for a weather-beaten dashboard as opposed to a climate-controlled cabin. Sealing technology is especially important so that equipment won’t let customers down in tough operating environments.
  • If the machine works outside, the screen will need to be capable of being read in full sunlight.
  • Consider how the wiring harness will have to change to protect the reliability of the electrical system by using a display with an IP67 sealed connector.

3. The method data will get to the display

  • There are several published versions of the CAN specification. For engineers planning to connect to the display via CAN, ensure it’s compatible with the version used by other CAN-enabled devices on the bus.
  • Ensure the display can accept any required non-CAN inputs and outputs, if needed.

4. How much and what type of data will be stored, displayed or reported

  • A digital touchscreen display can do anything from showing battery life and vehicle or engine speed to allowing the user to control vehicle settings.
  • The ability to combine engine and diagnostic information into a single interface and share data with other devices enables new possibilities for OEMs, like the display of diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs), maintenance reminders and proprietary messages.

5. Passcode protection

  • Off-road equipment machine safeguards are required to prevent unwanted users from operating the equipment. Knowing if this functionality will be required of the embedded dashboard display and if it will work in conjunction with a key switch is another detail that must be discovered in the project’s early stages.

6. Screen design

  • Most digital displays allow OEMs to differentiate a product by using custom screens. Teams with programming and troubleshooting skills might build custom user interfaces, or experts outside the company may be hired.
  • If the user interface is to be configured in-house, what development environments does the display support, and does the team have experience working in them?

7. Support after the project is completed

  • Does the in-house team have the capacity to make field updates? Or will the OEM require additional support after the product is launched?

8. Industry knowledge

  • The outdoor power equipment industry in particular is evolving, which will require that OEMs adopt more cost-effective means of doing business and creative ways to reflect the brand identity of their equipment. Strategic alignment around project goals is critical to realizing the full potential of a company’s next big introduction.

User experience

“HMI innovations have the potential to revolutionize user experiences as more types of mobile equipment evolve to meet the needs of a new generation of operators who have always known touch-and-go convenience,” said Aboumrad. “The combination of a sealed, sunlight-readable display and intuitive cross-platform software can give equipment makers the ability to provide a similar experience as an automobile dashboard, bringing unprecedented information and control to the user.”

Delta Systems’ latest offering in this space is a programmable touchscreen 4.3-in. display with an embedded Linux operating system that offers OEMs the ability to configure their own screens using open-source development tools such as Qt Quick and Ensemble Graphics Toolkit.

“Many OEMs feel forced to cobble together various technologies that are not designed for their market segment,” said Nohra. “Delta Systems is a partner with true OPE market experience that is trusted to find the optimum balance between innovation and practicality, given the application and its demands. We have worked side by side with OEMs for almost five decades learning about the complex electrical systems used in applications that encounter severe operating conditions, including outdoor, powersports, compact and material handling equipment, off-highway vehicles, agricultural machinery and more.”

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