Cambridge researchers have developed a new type of display for vehicles which is the first to use laser holographic techniques to project information such as speed, direction and navigation onto the windscreen. The technology is now available on all Jaguar Land Rover vehicles. According to researchers, these new systems provide a fully immersive driving experience and could even improve safety by monitoring driver behaviour.
“We’re moving towards a fully immersive driver experience in cars, and we think holographic technology could be a big part of that, by providing important information, or even by encouraging good driver behaviour,” claimed one of the technology’s developers, Professor Daping Chu of the University’s Department of Engineering, who is also Chairman of the Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE). CAPE was established in 2004 to enable Cambridge researchers to work in partnership with industry to translate science into new technologies and products.
The holographic HUD technology originated with Professor Bill Crossland in 2001, and was licensed to and developed by CAPE partner company Alps Electric, and then by Two Trees Photonics Ltd at Milton Keynes, in collaboration with researchers at CAPE. Products were designed by Two Trees Photonics and Alps, and manufactured by Alps for Jaguar Land Rover. The HUD became an available option on their vehicles in September 2014.
The HUD technology developed at Cambridge is the first to use laser holographic techniques, which provide better colour, brightness and contrast than other systems, but in a smaller and lighter package. It provides key information to the driver onto the windscreen. But according to Chu, the technology’s potential has yet to be fully realised, and its real advantage is what it could be used for in future models. “What we really want to see is a fully 3D display which can provide much more information to the driver in a non-intrusive way – this is still a first generation piece of technology,” he said.
The first HUDs are as old as the Second World War, when they were used to help pilots hit their targets while manoeuvring. The modern HUD became commonplace in military aircraft in the 1960s, in commercial aircraft in the 1970s, and in 1988, the first production car with a HUD was introduced. In aircraft, a typical HUD includes information such as airspeed, altitude, heading and a horizon line, with additional information such as distance to target and weapon status for military applications.
Most of the HUDs in passenger cars display similar information as can be seen on the dashboard – speedometer and tachometer, as well as navigation information. Some models also display night vision information. According to Chu, “there are three main types of information that we could integrate into future holographic head-up displays in the future. The first is the type of information that’s on today’s displays, but potentially we could add other information in a non-intrusive way: for example, if the driver passes a petrol station, perhaps the price of petrol at that station could flash up in the corner – the trick is how to display the most useful information in a way that doesn’t distract the driver. The next level of information that could be incorporated into holographic HUDs is information about the position of pedestrians, cyclists, kerbs or other vehicles; or whether the driver is on the right track. And if we move into the next level, we start thinking about how we can use this sort of technology to help encourage good driving behaviour.”
Although it is the realm of fantasy at the moment, the sorts of things which Chu envisions for future holographic HUDs could help avoid accidents by monitoring driver behaviour. “Imagine if this technology could be used to give alerts to the driver if they were driving too fast, or getting drowsy, or were over the legal alcohol limit. You could have all of this information with an augmented reality approach – your screen is your world, really. What I want is for the driver to have an immersive experience in how they connect to the world.”
Immersive experience which Chu predicts will cross over with the development of autonomous or driverless cars, another project developed by researchers from Cambridge’s Engineering department. “The car will evolve,” said Chu.