Driving the future of head-up display (HUD) with augmented reality (AR)

Navigating the future of head-up displays (HUD) for vehicles may sound like a lot of acronyms and buzzwords, but this display technology has huge potential for adoption in the coming years. IHS Automotive predicts worldwide sales of HUD-equipped vehicles to grow from 1.2 million in 2012 to 9.1 million by 2020 – and that’s not taking into account aftermarket HUD solutions for consumers to use in their existing vehicles.

If you’re a developer or OEM, you might be wondering what to keep in mind when bringing HUD to your next in-vehicle (integrated) or aftermarket solution. From field-of-view (FOV) to image quality, developers have a lot of factors to consider when building out their respective products.

One key area driving the future of automotive HUD is augmented reality (AR).  Let’s set the record straight on what we mean by AR. While not everyone agrees on the definition, there is a pretty straightforward way to look at how AR can impact the future of automotive displays.

If you put actual reality on one end, and virtual reality (VR) on the other, AR sits squarely between these two extremes. In vehicles, AR overlays digital imagery with the real world we see from behind the driver’s wheel, adding computational intelligence in the driver’s line of sight.

In other words, AR HUD enables the windshield to become the focal point for all relevant data such as speed and road hazards, while keeping the driver’s eyes focused on the road ahead. While work continues on deciding what relevant data should appear – and when – there are several technical considerations to keep in mind when designing an AR HUD.

Field-of-view (FOV) and virtual image distance

Field-of-view is perhaps the most important aspect of any HUD solution, especially for AR HUD, because it directly impacts the size of the image the driver sees. Currently, the widest FOV available using our DLP® technology allows OEMs to project up to 12 degrees – double what was previously possible in the industry. 

The virtual image distance dictates the throw distance of an image and how far out the image appears to float in front the driver. This is particularly important at higher speeds, when more advanced notice of things like road hazards are necessary. Current HUD designs using DLP chips can project images that appear anywhere from 2 to 20 meters in front of the driver.

Image quality

It’s important to note that image quality doesn’t necessarily equate to higher resolution in this scenario. Image quality involves several variables including image refresh rate, color depth, brightness, etc. Unlike the local movie theater, it can be very challenging to control the image quality in a chaotic and somewhat unpredictable outdoor automotive environment. The varying light levels throughout the day and night mean any automotive AR HUD solution must be able to maintain deep, accurate colors and consistently high contrast ratios to work across a range of driving conditions.

For example, our DLP3000-Q1 automotive-qualified chipset, which includes the DLP 0.3-inch WVGA digital micromirror device (DMD) and DLPC120 digital controller, features 400,000 fast switching programmable micromirrors that results in a high refresh rate in the microseconds and enhanced image quality. DLP technology is compatible with any light source, giving developers the flexibility to utilize everything from traditional incandescent or halogen light sources to LEDs or even lasers.

Development options

Most automotive AR HUD solutions require developers to collaborate on a solution that meets the needs of their products and customers. As we’ve described before, HUD solutions are typically part of an integrated solution featuring advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and other components that work collectively to deliver an improved driving experience.

At TI, we have a legacy of working with developers and the TI Design Network of affiliated partners to help them create products and services that tap into our broad portfolio of semiconductor device solutions.

Our latest automotive HUD solution, which we are demonstrating in the TI Village (Booth N115) at CES 2017, showcases how AR can be incorporated into future vehicles. If you’re at the show, stop by to speak to our team and learn more.