Eyes on the Road: Navdy Offers a Heads Up Display for Your Car

The first time I saw a HUD (head's up display) was years ago on a Pontiac Grand Prix. A digital readout was projected onto the front windshield, right in my eyeline while driving. It was a cool feature and I long wondered why the idea didn't catch on with more carmarkers. Well, HUDs are finally starting to arrive. Navdy is the first to market, and the wait looks like it was worth it. Combining hands-free gestures, voice control, and a settings dial, Navdy's HUD lets you handle calls, music, and more while providing directions and notifying you when fuel's running low. All without having to take your eyes off the road.

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Your Phone's in Front

"What if everything you love about your phone is directly in front of you," Navdy CEO Doug Simpson rhetorically asked Techwalla. Well, that's what Navdy set out to achieve. Maps. Calls. Music. Messages. It all appears on a transparent screen projected in your line of sight while you're at the wheel.

The screen is bright, too. Navdy's display is 40 percent brighter than your average cell phone screen, bright enough to be seen even when driving into the sun. "In any light condition you can see the color screen," Simpson said. "The quality of our image is an advantage we have even over technology built into the most expensive new cars."

It Sounds Seamless

I haven't yet had an opportunity to test Navdy's head's up display myself, but the experience sounds uniquely uncomplicated. As you start your car, Navdy automatically powers up and connects to your phone. You don't have to handle your phone at all. You don't even need to unlock your phone if you have a password or touch ID.

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Once you start on your journey, Navdy suggests a destination based on where you're heading and prior driving habits. (Navdy uses machine learning to learn your habits.) If you have a Google meeting set up, Navdy will naturally assume you're heading there.

Navdy is equipped with its own high precision GPS chip and a combination of offline maps and Google maps, so you won't get lost if you lose a signal. It is aware of current traffic conditions and will direct you to the fastest route to your destination.

If somebody calls while you're driving, you see a photo of that person and you can choose whether to answer or decline the call through a simple hand gesture.

Combination of Controls

Navdy combines gestures, voice and a dial to control the head's up display.

There are two basic gestures: Swipe right and swipe left. To accept an incoming call you swipe left; to decline you swipe right. Simpson says even a swipe of your finger is enough. Navdy has the potential to recognize an unlimited number of gestures, he says, but the company is starting with two in order to keep the learning curve light.

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The dial attaches to your steering wheel. It consists of a single button and a rotary dial. This is for more granular control, like zooming in and out of maps, and scrolling through playlists, favorite places, and contacts.

Voice control comes into play when dictating a text. If a text message comes in, you swipe left to accept and then dictate your reply. Navdy incorporates Siri and Google voice.

(If you're curious, Navdy's gesture camera does not support video calls.)

Car-Connected

Navdy connects to your car through its OBD (on-board diagnostics) port, the same port that service technicians can run a diagnostic on your vehicle. It's also the same port to which devices like Automatic attach. Fortunately, the OBD is usually found on the left side of the dash so that the wire runs between the dashboard and the windshield and neatly out of sight.

The OBD connection provides power, speed, RPM and fuel data that Navdy projects.

If you're running low on gas, the device will notify you. If you're just starting a trip and your fuel is low, Navdy will suggest a fuel stop en route to your destination.

A Game-Changer

CEO Simpson calls Navdy "the first practical implementation of augmented reality. ... It fundamentally changes how we use technology in the car. It's the first time that you can stay connected in the car and get information while you look forward and keep your eyes on the road."

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Who knows? Navdy's display may be the first step toward eliminating the need to look away from the road at all. Users expected they wouldn't glance down at their cellphones once they had Navdy, Simpson says, "But they say they are surprised that they don't look at their dashboards anymore." Customers also say that once they've used Navdy they find it "very strange to drive the car without it," he said.

Users say they are more productive, find driving better and less stressful, Simpson adds.

A Promising Start

Navdy went on sale in October, but the company already made $7 million in preorders starting in 2014 as part of a crowdfunding campaign. It began shipping to those customers this summer and the product already has 2.5 million cumulative drive miles. Sales since October have "exceeded our expectations," Simpson said.

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First to Market

Navdy appears to be the first developer of a head's up display to ship a product. It costs $799 through Navdy's website. That's actually quite a bit of money, especially when you consider that you already have a complete navigation tool built into your phone.

But the company is offering a $33 per month 0% financing option, which adds up to about $1 a day. Navdy just announced its partnership with Harmon, the largest supplier of built-in infotainment products for cars. So expect to see Navdy's technology built into cars in the future.