Even though the Prius was one of the first Hybrids on the road, that doesn't mean the engineers at Toyota can kick up their feet and relax. With other companies producing their own hybrid vehicles, Toyota has to keep bringing out new things to stay on top of the market. Their most recent innovation, the Touch Tracer Display, is aimed at safety rather than fuel economy. However, it could still be one of the next features to appear on pretty much every vehicle on the road.
Not familiar with the term "Touch Tracer Display?" Not many people are. The system is basically a heads up display that is build into the gauge cluster. The HUD is tied into the buttons on the steering wheel and, when your finger is resting on one, a corresponding light on the dash will illuminate. If you haven't had the time to memorize the buttons yet, this could stop you from accidentally turning the radio up rather than down.
The system is not limited to just the stereo controls either. Anything that uses a button mounted on the steering wheel will have a corresponding light on the display. As you can see from the image, the separate groups of buttons will each have a slightly different location across the display.
But here's where it gets fun. The little display will actually cover your speedometer until you remove your finger. According to the folks at Toyota, the reason for setting the system up this way was twofold. First, it will not take up additional space in the gauge cluster, so the most frequently used gauges will not have to suffer a reduction in size. Secondly, most people look at their speedometer more than any other information offering piece of technology inside the cabin. Makes sense right?
The real question is whether or not the system is actually anymore safe than just glancing down at the steering wheel itself. Yes, the gauge cluster is in a more direct line of sight with the road, but your attention will still be diverted for a split second in either case. Ironically enough, this is just the problem steering wheel mounted buttons set out to alleviate.
The Touch Tracer Display will make its debut on the 2010 Prius.