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In military and civil aviation, I’ve been told, head-up displays (HUD) are rather common nowadays. The technology is not that expensive anymore. Is there a user experience reason for HUDs not being widely deployed in consumer automobiles (and motorbike helmets)?

Without trying too hard, I can think of a number of probably useful features that go beyond moving information (like current speed) from the dashboard to the windscreen, most of which have been showcased already:

  • Highlight pedestrians, animals and other obstacles, especially when it’s dark outside.
  • Show navigation hints.
  • Virtually remove the hood when parking.

Slightly related: How can we improve the UI of cars and other vehicles? (Q2627)

Existing solutions

closed as off-topic by DA01, msp, Rumi P., Graham Herrli, Charles Wesley Apr 27 '15 at 16:41

  • This question does not appear to be about user experience within the scope defined in the help center.
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  • I don't know, but it's the thing I miss most about my last couple cars. They are fantastic – tohster Apr 24 '15 at 23:25
  • HUDs are hard. There are multiple studies in aviation that show HUDs can actually pull the pilot's attention, causing them to focus on the HUD instead of what they should be. Some cars have minor HUDs for things like navigation, but they are subtle for the above reason - highlighting a pedestrian isn't helpful when it distracts the driver and causes them to crash. I probably have one or two of these studies at work, but I'm not at work... and it is the weekend. :) I'll post in answer form if I can find references. – Evil Closet Monkey Apr 25 '15 at 3:32
  • A fair amount of cars that were early adapters of this (cutlass supreme) pontiac grand prix and the pontiac aztec were not massive successes. I am not sure what the consumer response was regarding the HUD in regards to their success though. – Frank Visaggio Apr 25 '15 at 3:53
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's asking why an industry hasn't implemented a particular technology--which usually isn't at all because of UX reasons. (In this case, it's most likely a combination of cost, regulations, safety issues, market demand, etc.) – DA01 Apr 27 '15 at 4:21
  • @DA01 I’ve tried to rephrase the question a bit to make it more on topic. – Crissov Apr 27 '15 at 11:35
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Here are some reasons why they are not more prevalent:

  • Users haven't demanded it. It's not something users care about enough in surveys or in customer feedback for automobile manufactures to include it. If it was a must have they would all be researching it and developing different concepts to compete in the HUD space.
  • Your speed isn't a primary focus when driving a car. You aren't constantly looking at the speed in order to safely drive the car. Thus it does not need to always be in your view. You can glance at it every once in a while.
  • They are pretty annoying on sunny days with glare. I personally didn't buy the Camaro and instead went with the Mustang because the HUD was so annoying on a sunny drive when I rented the car that I ended up throwing a notebook on top of it to make it disappear from my windshield.
  • As a result of it being in your primary field of vision its also annoying because I feel like I have to look at it, but I don't want to hence it becomes distracting. Having more data thrown at me makes my brain want to process it, which increases the cognitive load unnecessarily. I am thus less relaxed while driving and focusing on data that I need not focus on primarily.
  • There is no law mandating it. A lot of car features that are required are a result of extensive lobbying by companies that will profit from it going into law. TPS sensors , backup cameras, airbags, seatbelts etc.

Here is an article by the U.S. department of transportation studying HUDS in 1995 Page 10 lists the disadvantages in greater detail

Some issues they point out are

  • With augmented reality it will mask things in the real world behind the HUD
  • The extra visual clutter while you are driving.
  • “Mandelbaum effect” occurs when trying to view distant objects through nearer objects or surfaces. When interposed surfaces are located at different distances, the surface located closer to the observer’s resting focus tends to dominate the accommodative response (Owens, 1979)
  • Binocular misalignment: Binocular misalignment can negatively impact drivers in a number of ways. This occurs when a single object in the HUD image cannot be lined up on the retina with appropriate fixation due to distortions in the image. Although horizontal disparities up to 1 milliradian (or 3.4 minutes of arc) can be tolerated by the visual system, vertical disparities of this magnitude produce visual discomfort and diplopia (Gibson, 1980). This is because the visual system cannot make vertical vergence eye movements to fuse vertical disparities.
  • Luminance contrast requirements: Backgrounds for automotive HUDs are very dynamic which increases the probability that contrast interference will occur. Superimposing HUD imagery on the hood tends to reduce these effects.
  • It would be interesting to see some data on how regularly drivers actually do check their speed. – PhillipW Apr 25 '15 at 7:09
  • I agree that HUDs are not good for permanently displayed information. Current speed could be shown only if you are going above the limit, for instance,Coe navigation hints only immediately before you need to take action. – Crissov Apr 25 '15 at 11:45
  • Re "Your speed isnt a primary focus to when driving a car": the speedometer on my pickup has been inoperative for several years. Haven't missed it. – jamesqf Apr 27 '15 at 5:01
  • Especially compared to say aircraft where if you turn on your flaps at too fast of a velocity they might fall off, or if your going too slow you may stall – Frank Visaggio Apr 27 '15 at 12:24
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Question yourself this:

How useful is a HUD, compared to tactile buttons, whilst driving?

During the act of driving, a driver has to rely on his vision to spot other vehicles, pedestrians, objects, lining, signs, signals, corners, bicycle lanes, speed-bumps, etc. One could say there's more visual cues than when you're flying a plane!

One of the reasons a lot of countries have banned the use of a mobile device during driving, is because it distracts the user from seeing what's happening on the road.

Thus a large portion of the reason why there aren't many (elaborate) HUD's lies with the simple answer: they distract you from operating the vehicle.

Anecdote: An ex-neighbor of mine is an engineer that worked on military helicopter UX. Specifically, he was called in to solve the issue of proximity of other helicopters. Instead of adding another visual cue (pilots are overloaded with these to begin with) his team suggested strips on the sides of a pilot's suit. These strips would vibrate in varying levels of intensity the closer other helicopters would get, thus eliminating the need for yet another "in-your-face" HUD element.

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