Why the Heads-Up Display is the Best Interface for the Connected Car

Today’s drivers are connected to a constant stream of digital information. In principle, this is a good thing, allowing people to access information like turn-by-turn navigation, speed limit and real-time traffic updates quickly and efficiently. However, these same helpful tools can be a significant source of distraction to a driver—especially those without a heads-up display.

Accessing digital information while driving is now the norm. In fact, Distraction.gov reports that, at any moment during the hours of daylight, as many as 660,000 drivers across America are actively using cell phones or other electronics. This alarming statistic reveals a major source of roadway peril.

Technology is here to stay, and it is unlikely that laws will completely forbid the use of it.  One way to mitigate the danger represented, however, is to change the way in which people interact with technology while on the road.

A logical solution is the heads-up display.

A heads-up display (HUD) system consists of a translucent display unit that is overlaid on the windshield. The benefit of this setup is that drivers keep their “heads up” and their eyes right where they need to be: on the road.

Display technology

The concept isn’t as new as you might imagine. In fact, similar display technology has been available in some vehicles for more than 30 years, yet without much fanfare. This leads to a logical question: Given its relative lack of prior market success, why re-open the discussion on these displays now?

The answer is relatively simple: modern drivers have a lot more information available. That is, while classic displays provided some useful information, such as the speedometer and fuel gauge, none of this information required repeated checking throughout the driving experience.

Present-day connected cars offer more than just instrument panel information; they allow drivers to access everything from driving directions to reviews of the restaurants they pass.

HUD technology is available in an assortment of forms, including light-emitting diodes (LEDs), digital micromirror devices (DMDs) and liquid crystal display (LCDs). Regardless of the mechanism, however, the primary features and benefits remain similar. Moreover, these systems are often operated with voice commands, allowing drivers to keep their hands on the wheel while traveling.

Augmented reality

Some of the most impressive incarnations of HUD technology go so far as to offer drivers the opportunity to see a whole new world. These displays, known as augmented reality heads-up displays (AR-HUD), overlay useful information on the real world that lies on the other side of the windshield.

Just like those first-down lines that are superimposed on the football field for the benefit of TV viewers, augmented reality displays critical, often safety-related, information right into the driver fields of view. For example, such a display may depict boxes and lines indicating safety zones around other vehicles in the field of vision, making it easier to assess safe distances and reducing the likelihood of an accident.

Augmented reality displays also make following directions easier. Since clear arrows and other digital markers are presented as overlapping actual roadways and objects, there is no interpretation necessary of either simulated exhibits or voice commands common in existing GPS units and apps. As technology continues to advance, real-world anomalies such as potholes or unexpected road debris may also be marked in advance—features of which current tech is incapable.

Increased technological application

While HUDs are an available feature on many higher-priced cars, drivers don’t necessarily have to own one of these expensive vehicles in order to utilize the technology. Some companies currently offer add-on systems for use with any make of automobile.

It should be noted that these add-on systems don’t communicate as seamlessly with a vehicle as systems that come standard, allowing all of the information available to the connected car to be displayed. With add-ons, a certain level of integration is lost, since all information is relayed from a smartphone rather than from the vehicle itself.

While the number of potential driver distractions is unlikely to decrease over time, with the renewed focus on introducing and improving HUDs, manufacturers and others within the tech industry are playing an important part in making driving safer for both smartphone users and drivers of connected cars.