Head-up displays get second glance

Head-up displays get second glance

PARK RIDGE, Ill. — The emergence of bright, multicolor light-emitting diodes (LEDs), combined with breakthroughs in windshield optics, is laying the groundwork for a new generation of head-up automotive displays that carmakers and suppliers said will enhance safety while delivering navigational and other information to drivers.

BMW plans to roll out a multicolor head-up display (HUD) on its new 5 Series this spring, and General Motors Corp. said that HUD penetration in its flagship performance car, the Chevrolet Corvette, has climbed from 25 percent in 1999 to 90 percent today. GM said it expects to put the technology in two new vehicle platforms by the 2006 model year. BMW said it will soon launch HUDs in the 6 Series coupe and expects the technology will spread from there.

"Right now, we're launching it in upper- to medium-priced spheres, where the customers are more affluent," noted Martin Birkmann, product advocate for BMW's 5 Series.

"But later on, we expect it to trickle down into less expensive vehicles."

Suppliers said that HUD technology is spreading into other, unnamed automotive programs as well. "We know that it's going into some lower-end luxury vehicles in the 2006 time frame," said Mark Brainard, business development manager for Siemens VDO (Auburn Hills, Mich.), a maker of HUD systems. "We see this technology really taking off and becoming more embedded in the midlevel market segment later in this decade."

Indeed, besides signaling speed, like the first-generation HUDs, the new models will work in tandem with vehicular global-positioning systems to tell a driver, for example, to turn right at the next intersection. Suppliers and automakers maintain that HUDs will grow even more valuable as next-generation technologies, such as adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance, reach the market in greater numbers. There, HUDs could help save lives, they said, as the "floating displays" use red icons to warn drivers that they are coming too close to the car in front of them.

Industry observers said the time could be right for a HUD renaissance, especially as automotive instrument clusters continue to grow more complex. "The market didn't really respond to this technology when it first came out," noted David Cole, executive director of the Center for Automotive Research (Ann Arbor, Mich.). "But it's not unusual for a technology to creep in, go away for awhile, and then come back as a more mature product. That's what happened to the airbag in the 1970s and '80s."

Both BMW and General Motors are also incorporating navigation information onto the HUD, enabling vehicles to display directions without ever requiring drivers to take their eyes off the road.

"First and foremost, we want this technology to enhance safety," said Brainard of Siemens. "With more and more information overload on drivers, it's going to be more important to reduce the driver's 'glance time.' "

For that reason, GM, which already has HUDs on nine different models, is hoping that success in competing platforms will bolster its own effort. "We want to see BMW pick it up and do a good job with it," Stringfellow said. "If they do, they're going to help to spread the technology."
Thanks to Sturocks.