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In vehicles of the future, we'll see the road like Iron Man

The current dashboard information in today's car designs could prove more distracting than enlightening. The Heads-Up Display can change that.

For many of today's young people, driving a virtual car in a video game might be their first experience behind the wheel. From racing game series like Need for Speed to open-word simulators like Grand Theft Auto, driving feedback becomes a natural part of the UI. Instead of having to look away from the game to find out your speed or look at your map, that information is flashed on the screen; usually in a corner, out of the way, but not out of view. And while many of those drivers have had to get used to looking down at the dash for that information in real life, game-like HUDs may soon make driving easier and safer for everyone on the road.

The future is now

Auto HUDs are already available in luxury vehicles, or as plug-and-play devices that connect via a car's cigarette lighter or an on-board diagnostics port. First demonstrated in 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Indy Pace Cars and replicas, HUDs displayed the car's speed and active turn signal. Today's models highlight a lot more: RPM, fuel level, compass direction, and can even connect to an in-car or device-powered GPS to show turn-by-turn directions, projected directly onto the windshield or on a separate screen. The latest HUDs really do look like something out of a video game, featuring functional mini-maps, providing ETAs, and flashing up alerts if you begin speeding.

Destination ahead

As futuristic as HUDs can already seem to those accustomed to analog dashboards, they'll only improve in design as our cars become smarter and more connected. Once the technology becomes cheaper, HUDs will begin to be integrated into more affordable models. 

Today, most automotive HUDs – including built-in models – use a single projector that takes up just a small corner of the windshield, but HUDs of the near future could use multiple projectors and holographic displays to place multiple pieces of information where it's most relevant. By collecting real-time traffic data, your HUD could recommend which lane you should be to avoid congestion or highlight an upcoming exit ramp. As an evolution of parking sensors, a HUD could provide projections to help your car fit into a tight space, or warn you if it's too small.

Further automation of cars only increase the possible uses of HUDs, allowing them to become an extra screen to get work done, watch a movie in 3D, or even – in a fun bit of recursion – play Grand Theft Auto while your car ferries you to your destination. And for more solutions for an assisted or automated driving future, check out our suite of automotive tools.

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