Data-logging and telemetry, the display indeterminacy

In addition to logging data, a good data-logging system for racing applications must be able to display key data to the driver as to help him get the best out of the race car or motorcycle. The most common indicators include a speedometer and a tachometer as well as several warning lights; though the actual information displayed and how it is displayed depends upon manufacturer or driver preferences.

For instance, a WRC driver will only care about gear and revs —gearshift change indicator— as can be worked out by the following video. The co-driver will then usually have access to a full featured display for keeping track of the car’s performance —he will spend most of the time looking at his notes and the road ahead anyway— while the driver focuses on driving through the stage.

On the other hand, GT cup cars and LeMans racers usually mount racing data systems, with digital gauge and display (see Figure 1). Those data systems are very powerful, yet easy to own and install as the offer compatibility with many third party engine control/management units (ECU).

Figure 1. AiM MXL data logger and display.

But the acme of perfection when talking about dashboards are airliner cockpits —just take a look at Airbus A380’s awe-inspiring cockpit.

Figure 2. Airbus A380 cockpit [photo by Roger Schulz].

Now that we have seen how conventional racing dashboards may look like it’s time to look into how we may accomplish similar functionality with low cost products.

LED display

Using LEDs is simple and inexpensive. Furthermore, that’s what F1 drivers see on their steering wheels —watch Lewis Hamilton explaining his steering wheel in the following video—. F1 steering wheels have a gearshift change indicator, warning LEDs —e.g., yellow flag indicator—, and 16-segment alphanumeric displays which can be set up to show whatever information the driver wants to see.


LCD display

Drivers don’t usually care about fancy displays as they spend most of the time looking at the track; but nonetheless, LCD displays offer great versatility and can be programmed to show information in different ways —possibilities are endless.

A LCD display may be more expensive than one 16-segment display, but if you end up with many 16-seg displays, final price might not differ much between them, depending on the LCD.

Figure 3. Spoon’s 20th aniversary NSX-R GT’s LCD race display.

But we might want to go a step further and add some touch capability to the screen. There are some touchscreens with on-board controllers available at Sparkfun, just to name one retailer. Downside is that the price skyrockets to above $100, thought still affordable. We have to bear in mind that such a device would grant us a lot of freedom when designing an interface.

Final thoughts

At the end, projects are constrained by time and money; and while nowadays I have plenty of time, I have no funds for big projects and I should content myself with the cheapest options available, which means no fancy LCD nor touchscreen —but remember, F1 single-seaters have formidable LED displays.