Distraction Head-Up-Displays

Head-up displays: Too much information?

Vehicle technology

Apr 2016

Supplementing the range of driver assistance systems, one element of the human–machine interface that is available in more and more vehicles is the head-up display (HUD), a visualization system that projects useful information for the driver as a virtual image into the driver’s field of vision directly in front of the windscreen. The HUD means that the driver no longer has to take the eyes off the road in order to see the information – such as vehicle speed, information provided by the traffic sign recognition system or warnings of any pedestrians or cyclists detected by the night vision system – displayed on the instrument cluster.

This system can be enhanced with “augmented reality” technology. Controlled by a camera equipped with image detection software and taking into account the vehicle’s movement, the HUD features an additional display level. For the driver, it looks as though the information provided is in fact part of the actual driving environment ahead of the vehicle – for example, the navigation system’s turn arrow does not just appear to float in the air pointing to the right, it actually marks the intended turn-off point; or, the automatic adaptive cruise control places a glowing, orange-colored bracket onto the road directly behind the vehicle ahead. And when the lane departure warning system is active, the lane markings start to flicker as soon as the car gets too close.

That said, cautionary voices have been raised, too: A study conducted by the University of Toronto concluded that augmented-reality HUD systems in particular can be too distracting for drivers. After all, the very act of processing the information displayed requires concentration, which, in turn, can potentially distract attention from what else is happening on the road. When a warning is issued, the driver has to be able to register both the traffic situation and the warning itself, leading to a division of the capacity to absorb information. With this in mind, therefore, it is questionable whether augmented-reality HUDs can be viewed with unreserved enthusiasm in terms of road safety.