Less costly head-up displays are catching on

Images from Continental's combiner head-up displays appear on a small, clear plastic panel mounted behind the steering wheel.

BABENHAUSEN, Germany -- Head-up displays, mainly at home in sports cars and luxury models, are about to go mainstream.

By 2018, global production of vehicles equipped with head-up displays is expected to total 5 million units, more than triple this year's production of 1.5 million such vehicles, according to Continental AG.

Now, 10 automakers offer head-up displays in 19 models, according to the company. Included in that count are relatively inexpensive "combiner" head-up displays, developed by Continental and other suppliers, that are suitable for small, inexpensive cars.

For example, the Mazda3 and Mini feature combiner head-up displays, and other models will follow. By 2018, Continental expects that about half of all head-up displays produced will be combiner units, while most others will be units that display virtual images on a small portion of the windshield that the driver sees about 8 feet in front of him.

Continental's windshield head-up displays show virtual images on a small portion of the windshield that the driver sees about 8 feet ahead.

Combiner head-up displays, which have relatively flat, compact optics boxes, don't require expensive windshields. Images from combiner units appear on a small, clear plastic panel mounted behind the steering wheel.

Also, by 2018, a few luxury vehicles will boast "augmented reality" head-up displays, which produce colorful images about 25 feet in front of the driver that can be seen through much of the windshield.

But most head-up displays will be conventional windshield or combiner units that display the vehicle's speed, directions for the motorist's next turn and perhaps the driver's musical selections.

Continental's augmented reality head-up display, which is more elaborate than combiner or conventional windshield versions, is set for introduction by 2018.

A head-up display's optics box generates a virtual image that floats in front of the driver. The size of the optics box and the need for a custom-designed windshield add bulk and cost to the system.

Companies such as Continental, Denso Corp. and others are developing the more elaborate augmented reality head-up displays.

Eelco Spoelder, chief of Continental's instrumentation and driver HMI division, visualizes head-up displays as a mass-market technology split evenly between windshield displays and less costly combiner units.

"We see this happening for windshield units in mid-sized vehicles and with combiner units in the C and B [small-car] segments," Spoelder said in a July 10 interview here. "So the volumes there will drive the overall business."

You can reach David Sedgwick at dsedgwick@crain.com

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