Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) said Tuesday it had received two patents related to SmartGauge with EcoGuide, instrument cluster graphics that provide real-time information to drivers to help them maximize fuel economy.

The first patent was awarded earlier this year and covers EcoGuide, the display of leaves and vines that “reacts” to short-term driving habits and coaches drivers in a way that helps them achieve the best fuel economy. The second patent – awarded March 1 – covers the power threshold gauge that measures and displays power demand at any given moment.

“Increasing gas prices have people paying more attention to the fuel economy a vehicle offers, but rarely do they look at their own driving habits to help boost miles per gallon,” said David Watson, research engineer and part inventor of SmartGauge with EcoGuide. “These patents are a symbol of Ford’s commitment to finding ways to positively change driving behaviors to help maximize fuel efficiency.”

SmartGauge with EcoGuide features two 4.3-inch full-color liquid crystal display screens on either side of the analog speedometer that can be configured to show different levels of information, including fuel and battery power levels, and average and instant miles per gallon.

The power threshold gauge is important, Watson explained, because it shows how close a vehicle is to switching from electric-only mode to blended mode. With that information, the driver may adjust driving behavior to try and keep the vehicle in electric-only mode.

Taking a design cue from the Ford hybrid leaf logo, Ford graphic designers developed an animation of growing leaves and vines that track and reward a driver’s efficiency.

Called EcoGuide, the function also displays how many miles per gallon a vehicle is getting at any given moment and estimates how many more miles a vehicle has until it runs out of fuel.

“These two parts contribute to the overall purpose of SmartGauge with EcoGuide, which is to help drivers instantaneously achieve maximum fuel economy,” said Gil Portalatin, hybrid applications manager. 

SmartGauge with EcoGuide is available on Ford Fusion Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid.

The feature allows drivers to choose one of four data screens including:

* Inform: This is the basic level of information such as fuel level and battery charge status
* Enlighten: The default display mode, this screen displays what mode the vehicle is operating in and instantaneous fuel economy; it includes a tachometer
* Engage: This screen includes a gauge that shows gasoline and electric power use
* Empower: This level gives a full range of hybrid information that allows drivers to monitor the level of their driving efficiency

All levels show engine coolant temperature and the gear the vehicle is in. Also, they are customizable to show instant fuel economy; fuel economy history; odometer 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, conveniently located right in front of the driver on the instrument panel.

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

Watson said these are just the first two patents that SmartGauge with EcoGuide has earned, and that he expects the technology will earn more.


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