With the rumors churning about Google’s potential “heads-up display glasses” coming out at the end of the year, we thought it was important to look back at the history of this technlogy.
Heads-up displays allow users to receive data on a screen in front of them, so they don’t have to look somewhere else, thus disrupting what they’re concentrating on. Each HUD has three parts: the combiner, which is the surface the data is projected on — like a windshield or lens; the projector unit, which puts out the image; and a video generation computer, which creates the images.
The combiner is coated with a transparent film that allows all other light to pass through, but reflects or refracts the light generated by the projector unit, making it appear to float on the screen. As you can see in the above image of a HUD on an aircraft, the information appears over the sky so the pilot doesn’t have to turn his head. The projector units are powered by cathode ray tubes, similar to older televisions, an LED, or a LCD.
Video games are a common way to encounter HUD; interfaces players use to keep track of their health, ammunition or objective are all displayed in some variety of HUD, a technique that evolved especially as first-person perspective games, like shooters and RPGs, became mainstream. They’ve also appeared in sci-fi movies as part of everyday technology.
But before they were even futuristic concepts, basic HUD’s were first put into practice by the military as early as World War II. Read our slideshow to learn the history of heads-up displays, from then, to now, and even into the future.
The HUD we know today evolved from the reflector sight on German planes in 1937. They allowed targeting assistance to be added to a scope for pilots to more easily aim. Eventually it incorporated displaying information such as air speed velocity and attack angle that made it easier for pilots to hit targets.
The Blackburn Buccaneer developed for the British Royal Navy and Royal Air Force was the first plane with a built-in heads-up display. It was prototyped in 1958, but flew for the British from 1968 until 1994. It was a low-flying bomber that was used as late as the Gulf War.
After Britain noticed success in pilots who used a HUD, French test-pilot Gilbert Klopfstein developed the first standardized heads-up display for use in aircraft, so pilots would not have to refamiliarize themselves each time they entered a different plane. As is the case with many technologies, standardization is often the path to mainstream acceptance, as this moved HUD into wide military use.
While the earliest uses of HUDs on commercial aircraft were in the 1970s, it hadn’t reached wider use until it was added to Boeing 737 in the 1990s. Now it’s on several Airbus and CanadaAir planes as well. The HUDs help commercial pilots take off and land in inclement weather and also displays airspeed, altitude and flight path.
The first heads-up display was added to the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme in 1988. There were also some included on Toyotas in 1991. Currently, heads-up displays are offered by many different car manufacturers, and as third-party add-ons. While many simply display a speedometer and tachometer, newer models can also display navigation directions.
Virtual Retina Displays shoot a beam of light directly on the retina to display an image in front of the wearer’s eye. The technology has been in development since 1991 and has many applications, many for military and medical use. It will allow for the development of head-mounted displays, which serve as a HUD for the human eye. The technology has been proven safe by the FDA, has already had some practical applications. The Navy was developing a model for pilots that would help them see better in bright light, and allow for touch interaction.
Image courtesy HIT Lab, Washington University.
Heads-up displays are appearing on more consumer technology, including ski goggles with a built in HUD, tools for runners, and, as mentioned before, more complicated automobile peripherals. MicroVision is the company with many of the contracts for consumer technology, and it is currently working with Pioneer to create a large heads-up display that can work with your smartphone to add in directions.
Image of a 2005 concept of swim goggles that would display your time, from CNN.
Microvision’s website boasts several different applications for heads-up displays, from military to gaming. The only products it has available commercially though are pocket projectors.
General Motors is working on a full windshield heads-up display that will work with elements of augmented reality to highlight roads and street signs, display GPS directions, and even display the building you’re driving toward so drivers can easily find their destination.
Image courtesy AutoEvolution.
Google’s HUD glasses, which are still only rumored to be in production, would supposedly work with the Android OS and 3G to display different kinds of information to the wearer. If the the rumors are true, it’s definitely a step closer to the science fiction angle of heads-up displays.
Image courtesy Zebra Pares, Flickr.
Via Mashable: http://www.mashable.com