Head-up displays are about to get a makeover, as manufacturers like GM, Stellantis and Hyundai invest in the future of holographic technology.
Specifically, Envisics is set to produce holographic augmented reality HUDs for brands looking to improve road safety by keeping drivers’ eyes on the road.
Second-generation HUDs will soon appear in new models from Jaguar Land Rover and GM, including the 2024 Cadillac Lyriq.
Head-up displays aren’t new, with cars as old as the 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass displaying information on the windshield, and they’re increasingly found in mainstream vehicles. A recent $50 million OEM investment in augmented reality dashboard displays may end up leaving the traditional HUD behind.
At least Stellantis, General Motors, Hyundai or even Jaguar Land Rover are betting on it, because all these manufacturers are now strategic shareholders of Envisics, a British company dedicated to the production of holographic screens. Envisics is just one of many technology partners employed by these brands, but it is perhaps the one that drivers will interact with the most. Specifically, the company is set to produce augmented reality heads-up displays (AR HUDs), with the aim of further increasing driver awareness and road safety.
Based on graphics provided by Envisics, incoming holographic HUDs will display speed, direction, local landmarks, and potential collision points. Additionally, the technology describes pedestrians and cyclists to help drivers identify them more easily. A graphic even shows the system identifying dangerous off-road obstacles, such as poles and bodies of water. These features are the result of years of engineering by Cambridge University researchers starting in 2004, who eventually worked with Envisics to bring the product to market.
According to Envisics, augmented reality and automotive technology are rapidly intersecting, with a compound annual growth rate of 28% in the augmented reality market. The company expects a total of 1.6 million AR HUD units to be available in 2022 (most of them coming from Envisics), while it expects around 19.1 million units will be available by 2032.
Those are high numbers for a company that just received a $500 million valuation, but Envisics has the technology to back it up. It rolled out a laser holographic HUD for Jaguar Land Rover in 2015, with around 150,000 units receiving the first-generation technology. These heads-up displays are functionally similar to the new ones that will soon enter production, but the technology was considered somewhat revolutionary at the time.
With the exception of vehicles equipped with Envisics, most HUDs are image-based, which means that a virtual image is projected from a micro-screen onto the windshield. Holographic HUDs, however, use custom-developed spatial light modulators that allow for higher resolution and more reliable display of information. By design, these holographic displays are more dynamic, meaning they move with the road in front of them. It also means that the holographic display will continue to work even if a pixel or two is missing.
Despite these large OEM investments, only one brand has committed to a model with the new Envisics technology. Cadillac says the 2024 Lyriq EV will feature an Envisics AR HUD, as the company focuses on “adding a second plane of graphics that gives drivers more immersive information embedded in their natural field of vision.”
Stellantis and Hyundai have yet to say which of their products will get the screens, though it’s likely these high-tech features will be reserved for their respective luxury and EV offerings.
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