Make your car resemble a fighter jet

December 29, 2014, 4:20 PM UTC
Courtesy of Navdy

Automakers have tinkered with heads-up displays (HUDs) for decades, intrigued by the visual projection technology used in fighter jets that allows pilots to track vital data, such as speed and direction, while keeping eyes on the sky.

HUDs increasingly are found in premium vehicle models such as those made by Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. No need for a driver to look down at the speedometer when a floating hologram in front of her eyes tells how fast the car is going.

The rising alarm over distracted driving opened the door for a startup, Navdy, which is about to ship its after-market HUD to customers. The device sits on the dashboard and manages texts, messages, calls and other cellphone traffic while the driver keeps looking at the road. Navdy’s hardware, which links wirelessly to a cellphone, seems to offer distinct advantages over screens in mid-dashboard or above the steering column – which distract attention from the road.

In early October, TechCrunch reported that San Francisco-based Navdy had taken “pre-orders” for $2.4 million worth of devices from consumers to test initial demand, implying about 8,000 orders at the published price of $299. The company says the device’s price will rise to $499. Shipments begin “in early 2015,” according to the company’s website.

HUD’s most important feature is that the display appears to float on the horizon. To this, Navdy adds the ability for driver to control reply and other responses to texts and calls with a “gesture” of the hand, instead of touching a screen or turning a dial. Voice controls such as Apple’s Siri also will be compatible, the company says.

Navdy’s co-founder and chief executive Doug Simpson told TechCrunch the company had raised $6.5 million of seed capital prior to receiving consumer orders.

“A lot of [the feedback] has been around what applications people want to see on the device, what navigation apps they prefer,” he said. “So in Europe, for example, adding navigation that has offline maps for avoiding roaming fees as people travel from country-to-country is important. Also, we’re hearing that people really want this device to be the center of everything they do in the car.”

Infotainment features and digital innovations have rapidly become key selling points for vehicles, especially among younger consumers who often care more about how they’ll communicate and listen to music while driving than the size of the engine or the fuel efficiency rating. Automakers that have struggled to offer infotainment systems which consumers find easy and pleasant to use have watched third-party quality ratings suffer.

Earlier this month, Ford Motor Co. (F) announced it was switching software developers and introducing Sync 3, a new infotainment system. Its original Sync system was widely criticized and initially received poor ratings. A Ford spokesman said the company currently doesn’t offer its own HUD system on any of its models.

But Ford and other automakers no doubt will keep a close eye on consumer uptake of Navdy’s product. In the event that it becomes a popular add-on for drivers, the technology soon could be available as an option or come standard on more new vehicles.