The Hudway Glass takes a smartphone and turns it into an automotive head-up display (Figure 1), promising owners of even basic model cars a safer, more comfortable driving experience. This new technology enters the market at a time when automotive engineers and electronics designers increasingly debate the safest way to provide information to drivers.
A Question of Safety
For consumers dazzled by the growing presence of electronic widgets in their cars, the question of safety may not be an issue. After all, the emergence of the connected car seems like a win-win situation. You gain access to more navigation, traffic, and weather information, and then there are the additional infotainment and personal communications options. But the emergence of distracted-driving laws makes it clear that the push to provide drivers with more information is on a collision course with demands for greater safety. Electronic device designers must now give special attention to the type, quantity, and format of the information provided by in-vehicle systems, as well as pay close attention to the medium by which the information is delivered.
The Hudway Glass addresses the question of safety head-on, promising to provide only the information that drivers require to operate their vehicles safely, focusing particularly on mitigating the challenges posed by poor driving conditions. The wide variety of apps that the Hudway Glass supports provides a broad spectrum of data types and presentations from which consumers can choose, allowing the individual driver to decide how much is too much.
Transforming the Smartphone
The Hudway system offers two options for mounting the device on the dashboard in the driver’s line of sight (Figure 2). The basic option consists of a simple, compact cradle that holds the smartphone, while the more flexible version offers adjustable positioning, allowing for a variety of operating angles. Both mounts use magnets to secure the cradle to the dashboard, making it easy to adjust or remove the unit.
The key component of the system, however, is the sturdy but lightweight plastic lens that displays the information. The “glass” has an aspheric shape, which provides an image 20% larger than the smartphone display. The shape of the lens are designed to minimize distortions, allowing the driver to clearly see both the displayed information and the road ahead. A thin multilayered coating enhances the reflective properties of the glass while preserving its transparency.
“Our main purpose was to maintain the right balance between transparency and the mirroring effect,” says Ivan Klabukov, co-founder of Hudway. “We are currently working on creating even more layers for the glass so that it becomes scratch resistant and fingerprint resistant.”
The Devil in the Details
A recent study by the University of Toronto contends that augmented reality, head-up displays pose a threat to safety because they require drivers to divide their attention to deal with added visual information. Drivers do, however, need to visually check instrumentation to monitor conditions like speed and fuel, so it seems that looking at a heads-up display that doesn’t take the driver’s eyes off the road is better than looking down at dashboard instrumentation.
Hudway offers two apps developed in-house, providing options that satisfy the minimalist or the data-hungry user. The first option, called Hudway App, was developed before Hudway Glass, and it is available in Google Play and the App Store. This app draws information from Google Maps, Apple Maps, and OpenStreetMap and was designed specifically for navigation in low visibility conditions, mainly outside of urban areas. The Hudway App provides a visual representation of the next 12 upcoming turns and curves, highlighting dangerous turns, distance to the next turn, and current speed.
The newest piece of software, the Hudway Glass App, offers a set of simple use cases. The first version to be released in the App Store and Google Play will have six display options, ranging from a compass and speedometer (Figure 3) to a trip calculator. This version will not offer complicated features like navigation. These will be added in upcoming updates. Perhaps most important, the Hudway Glass App will not accommodate any communications features, such as texting.
“Texts, emails, or calls distract the driver from the road,” says Klabukov. “People are driving almost blind trying to multitask, with checking directions on their phones. That is when bad things happen. Indeed, based on official reports, 22% of all car accidents happen because of a driver multitasking and/or low visibility conditions.”
If these apps don’t suit you, you can choose from several others that leverage data provided by sensors residing on the phone, such as the GPS and accelerometers. These apps include Navmii, Sygic, and Baidu Maps, which offer features like location and turn-by-turn directions. Hudway Glass works with most apps that support a head-up display mode.
The makers of the Hudway Glass App have put a lot of thought into the content and format of the information presented by the software. “We did a lot of tests prior to the app release,” says Klabukov. “The main things here were contrast, the size of elements, and color coding. With the app, we basically tried to show the live road that moves with the driver. The main purpose was for information to be displayed clearly without streaking. [In] situations of extreme importance — dangerous turns or overspeeding — the app catches the driver’s attention via different colors/voiceovers so the driver is prepared.”
Across a variety of market segments, engineers and electronic device designers are wrestling with the same issues, but they have just begun to explore the best ways to present information in human-machine interfaces. The process will require more work before researchers determine the optimal features and delivery systems for these interfaces. That said, it is a good bet that head-up displays will play a role in these emerging systems.