Head-up Displays on the Cheap

head-up-displays-on-the-cheap

Head-up display (HUD) technology has made its way into automobiles from luxury manufacturers such as BMW, Mercedes, and Audi, as well as premium models from mid-market manufacturers such as General Motors and Toyota. The key benefit of such systems is to keep the driver’s eyes focused on the road ahead, by projecting information that normally is displayed on the instrument cluster or in the center-stack display directly right into the driver’s line of sight. By keeping the driver’s eyes focused on the road ahead, HUDs should, in theory, make driving safer.

Moreover, for automakers, the inclusion of newfangled technology such as HUDs ensures that purchasers will continue to shell out big bucks for advanced “technology packages,” which can add anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars to the price of the car.

That said, there are a growing number of aftermarket head-up display options for drivers who don’t want to pay extra for an expensive, OEM-based HUD system. Indeed, a large and growing market of aftermarket HUD technology offerings has sprung up to meet the demand of technology and auto enthusiasts seeking a more airplane-like cockpit experience.

Generally, aftermarket systems are designed to able to leverage the power of a smartphone, and many can also be connected to a car’s OBD2 (on-board diagnostics system) port to directly capture and display emissions, mileage, speed, and other useful data directly in the front of the driver, obviating the need to look away from the road.

The least expensive aftermarket HUD systems simply take vehicle data from the OBD2 port, and display it on the windshield, without any additional enhancements such as navigation information or voice controls.

One such example is Kshioe’s Universal 5.5″ Car A8 head-up display, which comes with an OBD2 Interface. The small device sits on the dashboard, and projects the vehicle speed, engine speed, water temperature, battery voltage, instantaneous fuel consumption, average fuel consumption, mileage measurement, shift reminders (if needed), and other warning conditions. Priced at $54.99, it is one of many low-cost systems on the market, being joined by HUDs made by Vehemo, ZXLine, Zixia, and others.

HUD1

(Source: Amazon)

But the market for HUD technology is not likely to be driven by displays that simply mirror the information found on a typical auto dashboard. That’s why devices that include navigation, voice controls, and, eventually, some advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) features, are likely to gain the most traction among buyers that may see these types of features in high-end vehicles, and want to have that functionality in their lower-cost or older, used vehicles.

Carloudy ($259) is one such entrant in this segment hoping to attract drivers that like the navigation apps on their phone, such as Google Maps and Google Traffic, but don’t want to be constantly looking back and forth between their phone and the road.  Carloudy is a portable, voice-controlled wireless display system that connects drivers to both their cars and to their smartphones for driving directions, shopping, weather, speed, speed limit, and maintenance alerts.  The system sits on the dashboard, uses the company’s patent-pending 6-inch electronic paper display (EPD) to harvest energy from external light sources to provide a semi-transparent display on the windshield.

HUD2

(Source: Carloudy)

A transparent reflective film is included that can be placed on the windshield to improve brightness and clarity under all conditions. Carloudy can be directly attached to the car’s OBD2 port, or it can function independently using the GPS data in any smartphone to track speed and direction. Points of interest, such as speed limit information, shopping sites, and weather information is provided via the Carloudy application, and all non-essential information on a smartphone (such as text message alerts and emails) are not displayed on the HUD to minimize driving distractions. The company expects to begin shipping beta test units in July 2016, and will ship to the public once they have gathered enough user feedback to ensure a positive user experience.

Other devices attracting attention in the automotive aftermarket segment include Navdy ($529), which pairs the driver’s smartphone with a projector mounted on the dashboard in front of the driver to display GPS navigation, basic speed and directional information, and application notifications. Users can answer phone calls, respond to text messages and email, and handle other tasks such as playing music, by using hand gesture control recognition and voice recognition.  As of the end of May 2016, pre-orders were set to ship in the third quarter of 2016.

HUD3

(Source: Navdy)

Another entrant taking advantage of the smartphone’s ability to power a head-up display is Hudway, which offers a free application that displays vehicle speed and navigation information, available for the Android and iOS operating systems. In July 2016, the company is releasing a small image-reflecting screen for less than $80 that will allow the display to be seen clearly during the day or night.  Hudway Glass is compatible with any app that has a HUD mode, and its own free map application shows the shape of the road ahead of you and warns you about turns and curves.

HUD4

(Source: Hudway)

For drivers in Europe, Pioneer offers its NavGate HUD (£600) smartphone accessory, which uses digital light processing (DLP) technology to project navigation, traffic, and other information through the windscreen, just above the driver’s line of sight. The NavGate HUD attaches to the driver’s side sun visor, and works together with the CoPilot and iGO primo smartphone apps to display directional instructions and information (such as estimated time of arrival and distance to destination), points of interest, and other relevant driving data, such as vehicle speed and speed limits, red light warnings, and speed camera warnings.

HUD5

(Source: CoPilot)

It’s likely that many of these systems will gain traction in the aftermarket, particularly due to their high degree of integration with automobile and smartphone apps, which have become ubiquitous.  Furthermore, a burgeoning aftermarket may help drive the faster rollout of lower-cost OEM HUD systems, much in the way that standalone GPS systems helped drive demand for in-dash versions.

That said, while in-dash navigation systems generally now feature larger displays, there aren’t significant advantages to having an OEM HUD, at least in the segment where aftermarket systems are competing (in the lower- to mid-market automobile segment). In fact, the very nature of aftermarket HUDs — systems built on smartphone applications, which can easily be updated frequently — portends more frequent technology and content updates than OEM systems can offer, particularly with respect to human machine interaction (HMI) issues such as refining gesture and voice controls, or support for additional third-party apps.

For that reason, it’s likely that the early growth in the market, at least in terms of unit shipments, will come from the aftermarket, rather than the OEM segment.

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