Auto HUD Balances Convenience And Safety

Windshield heads up display concept

Automotive heads-up display – also called auto-HUD – offers convenience balanced against the safety needs of drivers and compliance with windshield obstruction laws. HUD technology offers a heads-up transparent display with data for the driver without vehicle operators needing to divert attention from their front facing gaze.

Developers of the technology needed to navigate a variety of laws both internationally and domestically with over half of all states in the USA imposing rules concerning windshield obstruction and window tinting. And some of these laws are vague and open to interpretation. For example, California forbids any device “applied in or upon the vehicle which obstructs or reduces the driver’s clear view through the windshield or side windows,” leaving open the question of whether HUD “reduces the driver’s clear view.”

Two technical approaches to HUD have been implemented by automobile manufactures. The first projects an image onto a specially treated windshield that reflects the image back to the driver. The second uses a small transparent mirrored plastic screen under the midpoint of the windshield that typically takes up a little more than half the installation space of the full windshield display. The mirrored plastic screen offers slightly less ergonomic advantage than the windshield display but can be installed in smaller cockpits typical of sporty cars.

The focal point of the HUD data on the automotive heads up display has been the subject of extensive experimentation. Most current systems set the HUD data about 2.4 meters in front of the driver in the bottom half of the windshield. This contrasts with a focal point of infinity on aircraft systems where pilots are looking further into the distance. The choice for the closer focal point derives from something called the “accommodation effect” where an observer can easily absorb data at a close focus point while keeping their eyes on the road, whereas an infinity focal point, while easier on the eyes, causes the observer to blur the background in order to absorb the data.

HUD displays typically offer speedometer, tachometer, and navigation information. Night vision data is also available on select HUD systems. HUD displays are becoming increasingly common in production vehicles.


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