Evolution of Devices
Motor gauges have come a long way since their inception in the early 20th century. Initially serving as simple indicators of engine temperature and oil pressure, these vital instruments have evolved into sophisticated, digital displays, providing drivers with comprehensive insights into their vehicle's performance and efficiency.
The eras of gauges, testing tools and performance monitoring devices
The “In-car plug in device”, was designed to give the driver information beyond the manufacturer of a vehicle. Better known as, CAN BUS scanners, testers, gauges, dials and displays. These were for measuring anything from temperature to pressures and speeds of various parts of a vehicle which was aimed to benefit the driver to improve reliability or to pin-point where failures were. As devices have been made over the years, development of these after-market products were largely driven by demand from drivers of unmodified stock cars who had either fallen victim to unexpected costly repairs or from drivers who were improving the performance of their cars by modifying them. Insights were imperative so drivers could become aware of ‘silent killers’ which may have been doing mechanical long-term harm to their cars or where modified cars didn’t push beyond their operational limits.
Like most development cycles of technology, the devices had a distinct development cycle in terms of generation.
1st Generation –
The Analogue Era (1886-1980)
This is the first-time drivers were given an insight into what happened under the bonnet of their cars. The devices were referred to as gauges, with early versions being completely non electrical and totally analogue in their design. Some of these were operated by air pressure or copper pipes feeding directly into the gauge. It was typical to have one gauge dial for every type of measurement. Later versions had electrical wiring relaying information from analogue sensors which needed to be installed into various parts of the mechanical parts of the car with lights inside the dial for night driving. These were later developed with bright red alert lights which could be set at a threshold so that it would alert the driver to change gear or to reduce acceleration. While these were seen as primitive, the biggest setback was the need to have many gauges which required installing so many dials to monitor that the driver was often distracted while looking at the gauges. This could result in an accident or the driver could miss out on important information showing on a gauge.
2nd Generation –
The Digital Era (1980 – 2022)
With the arrival and popularity of pocket calculators, Microprocessors and LCD technology within affordable reach of drivers they could at last get a precise number and a value which was accurate and easy to read. Gone were the days of an A-pillars full of analogue dials. Digital numbers meant that a driver could have multiple gauges in one unit at the press of a button. As technology progressed, later versions dropped the LCD number display for a newer LED number display which made for easy reading during bright sunny days or at night. As the price of microprocessors digital technology came down this meant it was finally possible for manufactures to display many gauges 1at once on the one screen. However, the LED number display was dropped and replaced with a single display panel which was pixel driven. This enabled many values to be displayed on the screen at once like a multi gauge single screen.
Later revisions of the Digital Era saw manufacturers of gauges drop analogue sensors in favour of using the OBD plug. OBD utilised the cars new digital sensors which car manufactures began to install in 2012 to comply with euro emissions. The advantage to drivers was that they no longer needed to install time-consuming and expensive analogue sensors in the engine area and instead, a single plug-in solution, quick and convenient. This unfortunately meant that moving to OBD came at the cost of response and update delays on the display. This caused gauges to look delayed and jumpy. While the Digital Era saw a huge leap forward with technology the gauges still displayed a number which the driver needed to decide if it meant something good or bad and at the same time, keep their attention on the road.
With advancements in modern cars, this came with more complex issues. Drivers were needing to monitor their gauges more closely and frequently to catch any issues before something went ‘bang’ and consequences became very expensive. This required drivers to become part-time ‘rocket scientists’ and learn what all the values meant in difference scenarios. Driving was becoming more stressful and with fewer eyes on the road, it was becoming dangerous.
As a response to this issue, some manufactures resorted to giving the driver even more technical tools and gauges with some manufactures expecting drivers to study line graphs while driving. This was not ideal for someone who was trying to avoid punching a hole in the scenery with their car.
A solution which could feed in all the values of the gauges and spit out an intelligent answer was badly needed.
The 3rd Generation –
The Smart Era (2023)
The game changer. This is the first time that drivers had meaningful messages displayed instead of values and numbers. Gone were the days of keeping one eye on the values of gauges and needing to work out which values are good and bad. This made the gauges more accessible for drivers who hadn’t experienced a life of knowing how to read gauges. This was a huge step in development and updated features of the new 3rd generation smart devices which involved a substantial hardware and software upgrade. The “pocket calculator” style electronics of the 2nd generation struggled to deliver the demands of 3rd generation car smarts. With this new smart generation, one device now needed to think for itself, and it needed to be super fast. With modern modified cars reaching super-fast speeds in under 3 seconds, the 3rd generation boxes could not afford to have lag. These resembled a sophisticated multi-core CPU laptop, high resolution touch screen with professional insight software which included analysing and logging, more typically found in a tuning shop rather than on a driver’s dashboard.
This huge upgrade needed to be regarded as an investment and drivers needed to shift their purchasing habits from a cheap, potentially dangerous 2nd generation devices to a higher price-point of a 3rd generation device. Many drivers who could afford them reasoned that “the poor man pays twice” meaning that they justify paying the higher price with the possibility of huge cost savings associated with ‘dodging the bullet’ of huge costs for fixing broken engines, turbos and transmissions. The higher price point 3rd generation devices were finally justifiable but unfortunately it was not in everyone’s reach.
The 3rd generation device empowered drivers with a never-before-seen level of comfort and confidence in their driving and how their car performed and responded.
While the 3rd generation devices couldn’t predict every scenario of something failing, it gave drivers more confidence and insight into some of the common reasons why cars needed major repairs and a handy heads up to the silent killers, such as bad fuel, engine detonation and persistent knocking over time. These valuable insights were received with gratitude.