Head up displays in cars: the mechanical equivalent of a zombie

Contrary to what you might expect, you cannot help to be surprised at the lack of speed at which technology sometimes evolves. If you are looking for a piece of 1950s nostalgia in a brand new car, you only need to look a bit further then your nose (about 50 centimetres).

It's the dashboard. Already for so many years the same old plastic needles sweeping from left to right to inform you on your driving style and the car’s health.

Oh no, I'm wrong of course. There is a big difference with an old timer dashboard. When you press the button to start the engine, these needles first perform a super cool complete back and forth sweep. Is that the best we could do in half a century of development? Marketeers never stop to amaze.

Only in recent years full digital TFT screens are making their way into cars. If you imagine this technology has already been around since the 80s, why are we only recently changing from a fixed "what you see is what you get" dashboard layout to a high res colour screen that can be tailored to your liking? A huge central rev counter for the spirited drive, a stylish minimal design for cruising, a huuuge navigation screen when you are trying to find your way….. In short, endless possibilities!

What's even stranger is why we bother with LCD screens in the first place and did not implement head up displays in every car already a long time ago?

Allow me to explain.

Arguably the worst feature of a classic dashboard is that you have to take your eyes of the road to look at it. Especially the fact that your eyes have to switch between looking 50 meters in front of you to 50 centimetres and back, creates a whole heap of seconds you are basically driving blind. The main advantage of head up displays (or HUD) is that all the information is projected in front of you in such a way that your eyes do not have to change their focus when looking at other traffic. Therefore you would think that a feature that can reduce risk and therefore accidents and casualties would be used as an important sales argument.

I would go one step further; it would even make sense to make it mandatory on new cars, just like ABS.

The HUD technology itself was developed in the 1940s (70 (!) years ago) for jet fighters so I'm sure by now if you order them by a few million per year, they are affordable, especially since you can counter the extra cost by removing the dashboard.

But but but… I can already hear somebody stumbling like a 4 stroke 1 cylinder engine with not enough revs; "There are already many cars that feature head up displays!" and I have to agree.

Only thing is, for years they all looked like they were supplied by V-tech, designed together with games for the Atari 2600 and had about the size of a screen of a Casio LCD watch. Oh, and developing a HUD with more than 2 colors seemed about the engineering equivalent of climbing the K2 on high heels. Luckily in recent years the HUD offerings finally have become the multi-functional, high resolution and multi-colour offerings they deserve to be.

Unfortunately, that’s all a little "too little too late" for HUD's in their current form. They will be finished and dead soon and there are 2 reasons for that.

The first reason is the self-driving car and with that the extinction of the person who normally looks at a dashboard (i.e. the driver). The huge technology race towards self-driving cars is so massive that in a few years’ time most of our transport will probably be app initiated and completely autonomous.

You can ask yourself: as a passenger in an autonomous driving car, how many people would still be interested to see how fast you are going or what the local speed limit is? You just assume the car works and will take you there. Or how many of you already stood up in the public bus and made way to the front to look at the speed the driver is doing?

The second reason why the HUD is the technical equivalent of the undead is because there is already a much cheaper solution: the smart "augmented reality" glasses. They are basically glasses we all now but then on IT steroids. You get into the car, connect automatically with your glasses and all the info you desire will be projected in front of your eye. In short, this is a much cheaper and more convenient head up display.

Dear LCD and Head Up display, it was nice looking at you.

Goodbye.

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