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How a head-up display works? Is it a comfort or safety device?

Posted March 23, 2018

Augmented reality is a very peculiar concept. It is pieces of virtual reality interwoven with our actual reality. For example, head-up display, pretty common in new cars, is a form of augmented reality. All the most important driving data is presented right in driver‘s field of vision in real time. But how does it work?

Hyundai Kona’s head-up display allows driver to change the angle and the position of the screen. Image credit: Hyundai

It is very important to watch the road while driving – there are actually laws enforcing that. However, there are other laws as well, such as speed limits, and then there is satnav – everything is so distracting. Just so that you wouldn’t have to monitor your speedometer so closely or watch the map in the infotainment screen, many manufacturers kindly provide drivers with a head-up display. It is a bit of a safety-comfort equipment, as you can keep looking through the windscreen, which is both safer and less tiring. But how does it work?

It’s basic mechanism actually varied between different manufacturers. However, the principle remains the same – drivers see light on the windscreen and it represents the speed of the car, warning lights of basic directions from the satnav. Some systems are quite simple – there is a little display on the top of the dashboard. It is situated behind a lens and sometimes a mirror or two.  The windscreen, while it is still completely transparent, gets a small patch of reflective coating and thus it reflects what that little display is showing.

Some aftermarket head-up displays work in a very similar way – you just place a screen or even your phone on top of your dashboard and paste a reflective film onto the windscreen. Sometimes a head-up display is not showing images on the windscreen itself, but rather has a separate small screen that can be folded away. It is really quite simple, although it may get complicated when manufacturers decide to show a bigger variety or more complex images – then laser projection may be needed.

Hyundai Kona has a nice head-up display. It allows changing the angle and position of the screen and it folds away completely when driver doesn’t want to use it – everything’s controlled with a couple of buttons on the steering wheel. The most challenging part about head-up display technology is visibility in all lighting conditions. Some older displays become washed out in bright sunlight. Hyundai addressed that buy making sure luminescence of the display is class-leading with more than 10,000 candela per square metre.

Head-up display is typically a smaller display reflected onto a special surface. It is really not that complex, but it provides drivers with comfort and enhances safety.


Source: Hyundai

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