New Gadget Projects Heads Up Display on Windshield


The latest attempt to make driving and performing computer activities at the same time doesn’t seem very safe.  Navdy, a start up company that is working toward making it safer, is working on a heads up display that goes on your windshield.  Your computer screen will look like it’s floating above the roadway.  You will be able to perform functions like answering your phone by waving your hand or using voice commands.

Driving information and data will stream from your phone to the display.  It uses wireless technology and optics that allow the information to be placed in your field of  view, hovering just above the dashboard.

According to the New York Times:

“This technology is in its infancy. Navdy’s device isn’t shipping until later this year, and it’s not clear if it will work as seamlessly as presented in the video when used in less perfect real-life conditions. But, broadly speaking, the Navdy device falls into a booming category of in-car gadgetry that might be fairly categorized as “you can have your cake and eat it too.” Drive, get texts, talk on the phone, even interact on social media, and do it all without compromising safety, according to various makers of the so-called head-up displays, repeating a position taken by a growing number of automakers who sell monitors set into the dashboard or mounted on it. Some carmakers also display basic driving information, like speed and turn-by-turn directions, within a specialized windshield so a driver can remain looking ahead and not down at the instrument panel.”

Google and Apple also are working on a product that allows phones to plug into an USB port in the car so that the information can stream to a monitor set in the dashboard.  Consumer surveys say that drivers want systems that provide news, music, maps and social connections.  These devices are controversial.  Safety advocates claim that programs that try to minimize the dangers of distracted driving are just adding to the problem and encouraging risky behavior.  The advocates of the programs take the stance that drivers are going to do it anyway, so why not at least try to make it safer.

“To completely eliminate it is a pipe dream,” said Nagraj Kashyap, vice president of Qualcomm Ventures, a company that is sponsoring Navdy.  “The best way to handle it is to make it as safe as you can.”

The nanny state… I mean federal government has issued “guidelines” for car computers/infotainment systems.  Their main message, which I actually agreed with, is that some of these tasks interfere with a driver’s safety rather than enhance it.  Paul Atchley, a psychologist at the University of Kansas who studies distracted driving said, “It’s a horrible idea.”  He says that attending to the road involves much more than simply looking at it.  “The technology is driven by a false assumption that seeing requires nothing more than having the eyes fixed on the right spot.”  If one is staring at a computer screen, no matter where it is, one is not paying attention to the road.  Safe driving requires situational awareness.  A driver must be aware of what is happening all the way around him and at all distances, not just a few inches in front of the vehicle.

The Times goes on to say that Navdy, which is based in San Francisco, has raised $26.8 million, said Doug Simpson, the company’s founder and chief executive. Mr. Simpson is a computer scientist who spent 10 years at Hewlett-Packard. Even though the company’s $299 device isn’t shipping until later this year, it has already received $6 million in preorders, Mr. Simpson said.

The Navdy device, according to the Times, is roughly the shape and size of a mobile CD player and will mount on the dashboard.  The heads up display will come out of the top of it as a transparent screen with information projected onto it.  The driver can swipe the air or the steering wheel to answer calls.  The technology works sort of like a Nintendo Wii console.  The image will look like a hologram floating about five feet in front of the windshield.  Navdy claims that it’s “just like what commercial airline pilots use when they’re landing.  You hear that?  Pilots use it.  It’s safe.”

The fallacy in that argument is obvious.  Airline pilots undergo intensive training.  The displays they use are all information only critical to flying, they don’t answer phone calls or update their Facebook accounts.  The information they use is also displayed as an overlay right where they are supposed to be looking, not off to the side.  Christopher Wickens of Colorado State University is also a safety professional, and he thinks these displays are a terrible idea.  “It is clutter, contributing to potential failure and distraction contributing to potential failure.”

Rather than avoiding distracted driving, these companies are encouraging it.  The very definition of distracted driving is, wait for it….. something that distracts a driver from the road and his surroundings.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that a heads up display floating in the air in front of your windshield is extremely distracting.


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