Mike Stevens | Jul 24, 2008

As might be clear from my previous article on the topic of active noise cancelling, I quite like gadgets.

Another one of the things I'm fond of is the Heads Up Display, no doubt inspired by my first watching of Top Gun and seeing the targeting computer of Maverick's F-14 outline the Russian MIGs as he tried to lock on. Playing computer games, whether it be piloting fighting machines that had similar setups or just driving games where the speedo, tacho and map outline appeared in the "windshield", only served to reinforce that admiration.

There was also the option, in some games, for the machine to provide you with an "electronic eye". If it was too dark or foggy, a switch would give you a CAD-style line-drawing (similar to the classic arcade game Tail Gunner that would let you "see" no matter what the conditions.

I dreamed of cars doing the same thing. Aside from the usual information of speed and RPM that the car is doing, I wanted my HUD to highlight other vehicles with boxes, giving me their speed, acceleration and distance. That way, in any condition, I could be aware of other cars. No glare from the sun. No issues with dropkicks not turning their headlights on at night. And, if I ever got cut off and felt some road rage kicking in, I could imagine myself "switching to guns" and blasting them to oblivion once I locked on.

BMW HUD (M Mode)

We've seen more and more of it. Nissan was the first company I recall offering a speed-indicating Heads Up Display in its Bluebird, and BMW's M Division now offers it with speedo and GPS directions in normal mode, or with a tacho and gear when you press the M button. The Corvette Z06 has one that provides speed and lateral Gs. You can get such systems from the aftermarket dealers, with companies like Defi offering a HUD of their own.

corvette_z06_hud

Someone in General Motors must have also grown up in the same way, with Associated Press reporting that the company is now looking at providing electronic augmentation on the windshield. Rather than providing "information overload" by telling the motorist things they may not care about, GM is looking at improving visibility on what is traditionally what you're looking for outside the windshield: the road. Using cameras to watch the road, the system uses a computer and a laser drawing system to "draw" the road onto the windshield.

General Motors say the system is designed for older motorists, who may have vision impairment, and it would extend the driving ability of those people. For motorists with perfect vision, it could be used to negate fog or locations where there's almost no ambient light, and highlight where the edge of the road is and which way it curves. Conceivably it could also detect cars and highlight them, which would be useful in the fog or if people drive without their tail lights on.

There's a country road that I like to drive on, but with no lane markings and with lots of trees hanging overhead. It's near impossible to see which way the road curves at night, since the rock wall next to it is almost the same colour as the road and you have trees on the other side. I've actually taken to glancing down at my Sat Nav when driving at night, to get a rough idea of how far away the next turn is, and in which direction it goes.

If this system can pick out the edges of roads without line markings, it would be perfect for situations like that.

The system is still highly experimental, with no real timeline for release, but it is something that would be of great benefits to motorists of any stripe.

Follow Mike Stevens on Google+