After five years of developing prototypes of driver information systems for several automakers, supplier CAA AG of Filderstadt, Germany, has won its first contract for a production vehicle. BMW AG will apply CAA software to its simplified driver information system for the new flagship 7-series sedan arriving later this year.

In 1996, BMW asked CAA if its visualization software could support driver information systems of the future. At that time, CAA supplied digital animation technology for weather maps and video games.

What will the new 7-series instrument panel look like? At the North American International Auto Show in January, BMW showed its Z9 convertible concept equipped with “iDrive,” BMW's solution for the maze of switches and knobs appearing on high-end luxury cars.

iDrive replaces conventional switches and dials with a single controller — much like a joy stick — located where the gear shift lever normally would be. The driver dials the controller and moves it forward, rearward, left and right and presses it to select a function — turning up the heat, dialing the phone, getting directions from the navigation system. A small color screen on the instrument panel (driven by CAA's visualization software) makes for simple viewing.

At the recent Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit, CAA displays an Audi TT equipped with CarPC. Like the BMW model, it offers central control of all functions for communication, entertainment, comfort and navigation. CarPC also is voice controlled, but it is unclear if the BMW system will offer that capability.

CAA, founded in 1990, has 140 employees and recently opened offices in Detroit and Tokyo, and plans call for an “international network” of branch operations.