By on October 28, 2011

 

Having been on the road with Steve Lang who conducts his buy here, pay here business (“500 down and 50 a week!”) from a cell phone that appears to be  surgically attached to his ear, I was longing for a heads up display fighter pilots have: Eyes on what’s ahead, and still masses of targeting information. We should have driven a BMW: A “full-color head-up display is optionally available for almost all series,” BMW tells me in an email.

LaHood take note: “A normal driver takes a whole second to read the speed indicator in the instrument panel or to glance at the navigation device,” BMW says. “Whilst the driver is distracted, that is without his or her eyes on the road, the vehicle covers a distance of around 14 metres when travelling in urban areas at a speed of 50 km/h – virtually a “blind flight.”

How about this: “Sorry, officer, as my contribution to the war on distracted driving, I just cannot look at the speedometer.” In an optionally equipped BMW, you won’t have that excuse.

The information is right in your field of vision, in living colors, courtesy of a translucent TFT (Thin Film Transistor) display, the image being transferred to the windscreen via specially shaped mirrors, and adjusted to look straight in the convex window screen.

 

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34 Comments on “BMW Joins War Against Distracted Driving With Jet Fighter Technology...”


  • avatar
    tced2

    Old news. I had a 1998 Pontiac Grand Prix that had a HUD (not color). It was part of the synergy between GM and the newly purchased Hughes Electronics. Glad to see BMW has finally caught up.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I love the idea of HUD’s. I’d absolutely consider installing one aftermarket, and I think it presents a chance for automakers to go “blank slate” on dashboard design.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    The HUD in my dad’ Bonneville presents just the right amount of info – Speed, signal indicator, high beam indicator, fuel warning, and radio frequency.

    Here’s hoping GM will continue the lead and propogate this awesome tech in more vehicles as BMW finally catches up.

  • avatar
    Yuppie

    What about short drivers whose eyes are barely above the instrument panel cowling in my rear view mirror? Won’t the heads up display be right at eye level and block what little of the road that they do see?

    • 0 avatar
      dswilly

      All HUD systems are not created equal. If done properly, like in jets & most modern systems the focal point is actually far ahead (like 1000′) of the actual windshield so your eyes don’t focus short then need to readjust when you look ahead. If all you do is project onto the glass which is likely what the early 90′s systems did, your not accomplishing much more than waving the info in front of what you should be actually looking at. Which then becomes another distraction.

      • 0 avatar
        MrWhopee

        You’d think that a car with such advanced features like a HUD would feature a height-adjustable driver’s seat. I think all BMWs have those. Those short drivers whose head barely poke above the instrument panel is usually on cheap cars with no height-adjustable seats. Though some drivers seem to actually prefer this kind of driving position, which they perceive as ‘cool’.

      • 0 avatar
        andreroy55

        I recall reading somewhere that focusing the image way ahead was tried. Someone (GM? BMW? Daimler-Benz?) tried it and found that if the image was projected to appear much ahead of the front bumper, the driver would tend to drive into things. Things like the car in front of the driver, or walls. Put the apparent image no farther than the front bumper, and the bumper didn’t get bumped.

        Sorry, can’t provide any reference.

  • avatar
    mjal

    NIssan, I believe, also had a more primitive version in its early 1990s 240sx coupe.

    • 0 avatar
      240SX_KAT

      The started shipping their HUD in 1989 on LE coupe models. It displays your speed in the lower left corner of the windshield. The interesting thing is there is a special windshield for the HUD. Nissan puts a small polarized reflector between the glass layers to reflect the VFD display in the top of the dash. From what I have read that step is manual causing the windshields for the HUD model to be over a grand. I’m not looking forward to replacing mine.

    • 0 avatar
      don1967

      Maxima too.

  • avatar

    ‘“A normal driver takes a whole second to read the speed indicator in the instrument panel or to glance at the navigation device,” BMW says.’
    If I would need a whole second to check my current speed on a contemporary speedo, I’d rather give up driving than buying a BMW with HUD.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      I was thinking the same thing. Perhaps the display in question was simply a numerical digital readout. But a needle on a dial can be “read” precisely enough simply by looking at the position of the needle.

      I have a very retrograde thought about all of this, however. That is that NONE of the information typically displayed on a dashboard is particularly important to the safe and effective operation of the car, so as to justify sticking it in the driver’s direct field of view viz: a driver should judge his speed with reference to the road, the other vehicles around him and how his car “feels” (i.e. is it squirreling around or does it feel well planted), a driver should judge his engine speed by how it sounds (and puh-leeze, given the proliferation of autoboxes, what’s up with tachometers, anyway?); and a driver should know that his high beams are on by the way the road in front of him looks, not because some HUD lets him in on the news. At most, there should be a general-purpose alarm light to indicate some sort of engine failure (overheating, oil pressure loss, accessory belt failure) and perhaps that you only have a few gallons of fuel left.

      All of this HUD stuff smacks of pandering to the fighter pilot wannabe crowd (no surprise that BMW is at the vanguard in introducing this new feature). Yet most of the HUD information a fighter pilot sees is weapons and targeting information which, thankfully, has no analog in a car. And, of course, there are few external referents by which a pilot can “eyeball” airspeed altitude or direction with any degree of precision. (I don’t know if that information is in HUDs or not.)

      One of the things I’ve noticed about my top-of-the dash mounted portable GPS is that I find myself looking at the damn thing, even when I’m driving a familiar route, and paying less attention to the road. Talk about “driver distraction.”

      I think a driver should be encouraged to engage all of his senses to perceive directly the environment he is operating in . . . and not turn driving into some sort of partial videogame with a bunch of readouts in an HUD.

      But, I’m an old fart, so what do I know!

      • 0 avatar
        dswilly

        According to the B@B Pontiac was at the Vangard of HUD developement.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        I agree with you entirely, fart to fart. What combat-awareness-critical information does a driver need to know on a second-to-second basis? Nothing more than he can see with his own eyes, IF a HUD isn’t in the way.

        On a typical drive, I check the fuel gauge about every hour. My speedometer, with red needle on black, is almost unreadable in daylight, and at night I dim it as low as possible. I consult it every few minutes to cross-check my sense of what 45 or 55 to 70 mph feels like, but that’s all. It’s rarely so important to keep an exact speed, and if it is, I use cruise control. If you simply keep up with the general flow of traffic around If you, passing the slowest cars and being passed by the fastest, you’re going at a safe speed.

        Driving a car, unlike flying, can’t be done on instruments, or by the numbers. Road hazards are too many, too varied, and too sudden for that. I agree with LaHood. The task is to keep drivers attention outside their own car-cocoons. The manufacturers want to sell us these flashy features, but they’re deadly distractions, too.

      • 0 avatar
        pacificpom2

        All aircraft HUD’s display standard flight info, altitude, airspeed, navigation, plus a wealth of other info requested or displayed if the computer deems it vital to staying alive or to destroy something with things that go bang. As for cars, personally a hud display of turn signals would go a long way to relieve other drivers frustrations!

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        I mostly agree with you, I can see the angle of the needle in my periferal vision even when looking far ahead on the road, which might explain why digital speedometers that just show a number have never been popular.
        On the other hand, I like manual transmissions, so I like tachometers. Especially in modern cars where you really can’t hear the engine at all (although the difference in throttle response normally gives away what gear you’re in). I only occasionally check stuff like the heat or fuel gauge.

      • 0 avatar
        Elorac

        +1 As a wannabe fighter pilot myself, IMO you are completely correct. Then again, tachometers in autoboxes only exist for the wannabe race driver crowd too…

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Tachs in autos aren’t completely worthless. You can still control how a car shifts, even if it has an auto. (No, I don’t mean those silly ‘sport modes.’ I mean by adjusting how you apply the gas.) Similarly, it provides feedback to how the car is responding/behaving given your throttle input.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        A tach is completely unnecessary for any car with an automatic transmission. No need for an oil pressure gauge either, or a charging system gauge, or an engine temperature gauge. As long as everything is working, why would you need any of that crap? It’s confusing and distracting. Even the speedometer should be eliminated because the car should simply stop accelerating when the GPS determines that you’ve reached the maximum allowable speed for that road. If the car starts acting strange, just phone someone and have it towed to the dealer like a normal person. Only luddites would want to be able to monitor the operation of the car in any depth.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Can this HUD be customized a bit? The pic is too busy – it screams Lexus.
    Give me a tach, speedo, & engine temp. Maybe Nav if I’m travelling. If I want the rest, I’ll take the heart attack risk and go to i-drive…

  • avatar
    fincar1

    The tach’s great with an automatic. It can help prevent you from motoring down the highway in D3 or D4 for ten or twenty miles after coming down off that steep hill from the lake.

  • avatar
    devilsadvocate

    So let me get this straight…putting a display in my field of vision isn’t distracting? If we’re talking safety, wouldn’t it be more prudent to actually look where you’re going? Just sayin’… But on the other hand, I won’t suffer neck or eye strain caused by glancing down an inch or two.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Sydney

    Why just repeat the same old information on the windscreen. Couldn’t we try some new things. For example how about two vertical lines separated by what 2.5 metres would look like at the right distance for the current speed to provide a 2 second gap from the car in front?
    Or a picture of a petrol pump when the tank is below 1/4 full and the GPS knows of a preferred brand of fuel within the next km?
    Any other suggestions?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    This might sound odd, but I use the windshield to look outside of the car.

    Unlike jets, we don’t use instruments to pilot our cars. Not only is the display distracting, but it obscures the view. Not my idea of a safety feature.

  • avatar
    d503kemp

    I’m not really all that distracted when I glance at my tachometer or speedometer and then back out the window to see what is in front of me.

    Smartphones are what distract people when they drive. Tweeting and e-mailing, buying flowers and looking up dinosaurs for their kids etc.

    I’m too busy just enjoying driving to look at a phone. Besides, I’ll be in front of a damn computer soon enough when I commute to my cubicle . . .

  • avatar
    don1967

    So in one fell swoop BMW has managed to:

    1. Offset some of the distractions caused by i-Drive
    2. Dramatically increase the cost of windshield replacment
    3. Make a slightly better version of something Nissan did 20 years ago

    Yawn.

  • avatar
    don1967

    So in one fell swoop BMW has managed to:

    1. Offset some of the distractions caused by i-Drive
    2. Dramatically increase the cost of windshield replacment
    3. Make a slightly better version of something Nissan did 20 years ago

    Yawn.

  • avatar
    67dodgeman

    How long before someone “chips” this to display in-car movies? Or e-books? Or video games (all those buttons on the steering have to be good for something!)?

    Me? I just need a targeting reticle for my imaginary quad 50′s mounted on the hood of my ’67 to blow away the slower drivers!

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    I’m pretty sure if I had this, I’d turn it off.

  • avatar

    No doubt. Do they still use the obnoxious red instrument lighting?


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