Head-Up Car Displays Coming in 2024

Mass-market players will introduce HUD-enabled driving soon

4 min read
View of an intersection at night. An overlay shows arrows for turning left as well as car and road information.

The 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS includes an augmented-reality navigation system and color head-up display.

Mercedes-Benz

The 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS, the first all-electric sedan from the company that essentially invented the automobile in 1885–1886, glides through Brooklyn. But this is definitely the 21st century: Blue directional arrows seem to paint the pavement ahead via an augmented-reality (AR) navigation system and color head-up display, or HUD. Digital street signs and other graphics are superimposed over a camera view on the EQS’s much-hyped “Hyperscreen”—a 142-centimeter (56-inch) dash-spanning wonder that includes a 45-cm (17.7-inch) OLED center display. But here’s my favorite bit: As I approach my destination, AR street numbers appear and then fade in front of buildings as I pass, like flipping through a virtual Rolodex; there’s no more craning your neck and getting distracted while trying to locate a home or business. Finally, a graphical map pin floats over the real-time scene to mark the journey’s end.

It’s cool stuff, albeit for folks who can afford a showboating Mercedes flagship that starts above US $103,000 and topped $135,000 in my EQS 580 test car. But CES 2022 in Las Vegas saw Panasonic unveil a more-affordable HUD that it says should reach a production car by 2024.

Head-up displays have become a familiar automotive feature, with a speedometer, speed limit, engine rpms, or other information that hovers in the driver’s view, helping keep eyes on the road. Luxury cars from Mercedes, BMW, Genesis, and others have recently broadened HUD horizons with larger, crisper, more data-rich displays.

Mercedes Benz augmented reality navigationyoutu.be

Panasonic, powered by Qualcomm processing and AI navigation software from Phiar Technologies, hopes to push into the mainstream with its AR HUD 2.0. Its advances include an integrated eye-tracking camera to accurately match AR images to a driver’s line of sight. Phiar’s AI software lets it overlay crisply rendered navigation icons and spot or highlight objects including vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, barriers, and lane markers. The infrared camera can monitor potential driver distraction, drowsiness, or impairment, with no need for a standalone camera as with GM’s semiautonomous Super Cruise system.

Close up of a car infotainment unit showing a man at the driving wheel, with eye-tracking technology overlayed on his facePanasonic's AR HUD system includes eye-tracking to match AR images to the driver's line of sight. Panasonic

Andrew Poliak, CTO of Panasonic Automotive Systems Company of America, said the eye tracker spots a driver’s height and head movement to adjust images in the HUD’s “eyebox.”

“We can improve fidelity in the driver’s field of view by knowing precisely where the driver is looking, then matching and focusing AR images to the real world much more precisely,” Poliak said.

For a demo on the Las Vegas strip, using a Lincoln Aviator as test mule, Panasonic used its SkipGen infotainment system and a Qualcomm Snapdragon SA8155 processor. But AR HUD 2.0 could work with a range of in-car infotainment systems. That includes a new Snapdragon-powered generation of Android Automotive—an open-source infotainment ecosystem, distinct from the Android Auto phone-mirroring app. The first-gen, Intel-based system made an impressive debut in the Polestar 2, from Volvo’s electric brand. The uprated Android Automotive will run in 2022’s lidar-equipped Polestar 3 SUV—an electric Volvo SUV—and potentially millions of cars from General Motors, Stellantis, and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance.

Gene Karshenboym helped develop Android Automotive for Volvo and Polestar as Google’s head of hardware platforms. Now, he’s chief executive of Phiar, a software company in Redwood, Calif. Karshenboym said AI-powered AR navigation can greatly reduce a driver’s cognitive load, especially as modern cars put ever more information at their eyes and fingertips. Current embedded navigation screens force drivers to look away from the road and translate 2D maps as they hurtle along.

“It’s still too much like using a paper map, and you have to localize that information with your brain,” Karshenboym says.

In contrast, following arrows and stripes displayed on the road itself—a digital yellow brick road, if you will—reduces fatigue and the notorious stress of map reading. It’s something that many direction-dueling couples might give thanks for.

“You feel calmer,” he says. “You’re just looking forward, and you drive.”

Street testing Phiar's AI navigation engineyoutu.be

The system classifies objects on a pixel-by-pixel basis at up to 120 frames per second. Potential hazards, like an upcoming crosswalk or a pedestrian about to dash across the road, can be highlighted by AR animations. Phiar’s synthetic model trained its AI for snowstorms, poor lighting, and other conditions, teaching it to fill in the blanks and create a reliable picture of its environment. And the system doesn’t require granular maps, monster computing power, or pricey sensors such as radar or lidar. Its AR tech runs off a single front-facing, roughly 720p camera, powered by a car’s onboard infotainment system and CPU.

“There’s no additional hardware necessary,” Karshenboym says.

The company is also making its AR markers appear more convincing by “occluding” them with elements from the real world. In Mercedes’s system, for example, directional arrows can run atop cars, pedestrians, trees, or other objects, slightly spoiling the illusion. In Phiar’s system, those objects can block off portions of a “magic carpet” guidance stripe, as though it were physically painted on the pavement.

“It brings an incredible sense of depth and realism to AR navigation,” Karshenboym says.

Once visual data is captured, it can be processed and sent anywhere an automaker chooses, whether a center display, a HUD, or passenger entertainment screens. Those passenger screens could be ideal for Pokémon-style games, the metaverse, or other applications that combine real and virtual worlds.

Poliak said some current HUD units hog up to 14 liters of volume in a car. A goal is to reduce that to 7 liters or less, while simplifying and cutting costs. Panasonic says its single optical sensor can effectively mimic a 3D effect, taking a flat image and angling it to offer a generous 10- to 40-meter viewing range. The system also advances an industry trend by integrating display domains—including a HUD or driver’s cluster—in a central, powerful infotainment module.

“You get smaller packaging and a lower price point to get into more entry-level vehicles, but with the HUD experience OEMs are clamoring for,” Poliak said.

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The Inner Beauty of Basic Electronics

Open Circuits showcases the surprising complexity of passive components

5 min read
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A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.
All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay
Blue

Eric Schlaepfer was trying to fix a broken piece of test equipment when he came across the cause of the problem—a troubled tantalum capacitor. The component had somehow shorted out, and he wanted to know why. So he polished it down for a look inside. He never found the source of the short, but he and his collaborator, Windell H. Oskay, discovered something even better: a breathtaking hidden world inside electronics. What followed were hours and hours of polishing, cleaning, and photography that resulted in Open Circuits: The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components (No Starch Press, 2022), an excerpt of which follows. As the authors write, everything about these components is deliberately designed to meet specific technical needs, but that design leads to “accidental beauty: the emergent aesthetics of things you were never expected to see.”

From a book that spans the wide world of electronics, what we at IEEE Spectrum found surprisingly compelling were the insides of things we don’t spend much time thinking about, passive components. Transistors, LEDs, and other semiconductors may be where the action is, but the simple physics of resistors, capacitors, and inductors have their own sort of splendor.

High-Stability Film Resistor

A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.

All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

This high-stability film resistor, about 4 millimeters in diameter, is made in much the same way as its inexpensive carbon-film cousin, but with exacting precision. A ceramic rod is coated with a fine layer of resistive film (thin metal, metal oxide, or carbon) and then a perfectly uniform helical groove is machined into the film.

Instead of coating the resistor with an epoxy, it’s hermetically sealed in a lustrous little glass envelope. This makes the resistor more robust, ideal for specialized cases such as precision reference instrumentation, where long-term stability of the resistor is critical. The glass envelope provides better isolation against moisture and other environmental changes than standard coatings like epoxy.

15-Turn Trimmer Potentiometer

A photo of a blue chip
A photo of a blue chip on a circuit board.

It takes 15 rotations of an adjustment screw to move a 15-turn trimmer potentiometer from one end of its resistive range to the other. Circuits that need to be adjusted with fine resolution control use this type of trimmer pot instead of the single-turn variety.

The resistive element in this trimmer is a strip of cermet—a composite of ceramic and metal—silk-screened on a white ceramic substrate. Screen-printed metal links each end of the strip to the connecting wires. It’s a flattened, linear version of the horseshoe-shaped resistive element in single-turn trimmers.

Turning the adjustment screw moves a plastic slider along a track. The wiper is a spring finger, a spring-loaded metal contact, attached to the slider. It makes contact between a metal strip and the selected point on the strip of resistive film.

Ceramic Disc Capacitor

A cutaway of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor
A photo of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor

Capacitors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of static electricity. They’re used in countless ways, including for bulk energy storage, to smooth out electronic signals, and as computer memory cells. The simplest capacitor consists of two parallel metal plates with a gap between them, but capacitors can take many forms so long as there are two conductive surfaces, called electrodes, separated by an insulator.

A ceramic disc capacitor is a low-cost capacitor that is frequently found in appliances and toys. Its insulator is a ceramic disc, and its two parallel plates are extremely thin metal coatings that are evaporated or sputtered onto the disc’s outer surfaces. Connecting wires are attached using solder, and the whole assembly is dipped into a porous coating material that dries hard and protects the capacitor from damage.

Film Capacitor

An image of a cut away of a capacitor
A photo of a green capacitor.

Film capacitors are frequently found in high-quality audio equipment, such as headphone amplifiers, record players, graphic equalizers, and radio tuners. Their key feature is that the dielectric material is a plastic film, such as polyester or polypropylene.

The metal electrodes of this film capacitor are vacuum-deposited on the surfaces of long strips of plastic film. After the leads are attached, the films are rolled up and dipped into an epoxy that binds the assembly together. Then the completed assembly is dipped in a tough outer coating and marked with its value.

Other types of film capacitors are made by stacking flat layers of metallized plastic film, rather than rolling up layers of film.

Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

A photo of a cutaway of a Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

At the core of this capacitor is a porous pellet of tantalum metal. The pellet is made from tantalum powder and sintered, or compressed at a high temperature, into a dense, spongelike solid.

Just like a kitchen sponge, the resulting pellet has a high surface area per unit volume. The pellet is then anodized, creating an insulating oxide layer with an equally high surface area. This process packs a lot of capacitance into a compact device, using spongelike geometry rather than the stacked or rolled layers that most other capacitors use.

The device’s positive terminal, or anode, is connected directly to the tantalum metal. The negative terminal, or cathode, is formed by a thin layer of conductive manganese dioxide coating the pellet.

Axial Inductor

An image of a cutaway of a Axial Inductor
A photo of a collection of cut wires

Inductors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of a magnetic field. They’re used, for example, in some types of power supplies to convert between voltages by alternately storing and releasing energy. This energy-efficient design helps maximize the battery life of cellphones and other portable electronics.

Inductors typically consist of a coil of insulated wire wrapped around a core of magnetic material like iron or ferrite, a ceramic filled with iron oxide. Current flowing around the core produces a magnetic field that acts as a sort of flywheel for current, smoothing out changes in the current as it flows through the inductor.

This axial inductor has a number of turns of varnished copper wire wrapped around a ferrite form and soldered to copper leads on its two ends. It has several layers of protection: a clear varnish over the windings, a light-green coating around the solder joints, and a striking green outer coating to protect the whole component and provide a surface for the colorful stripes that indicate its inductance value.

Power Supply Transformer

A photo of a collection of cut wires
A photo of a yellow element on a circuit board.

This transformer has multiple sets of windings and is used in a power supply to create multiple output AC voltages from a single AC input such as a wall outlet.

The small wires nearer the center are “high impedance” turns of magnet wire. These windings carry a higher voltage but a lower current. They’re protected by several layers of tape, a copper-foil electrostatic shield, and more tape.

The outer “low impedance” windings are made with thicker insulated wire and fewer turns. They handle a lower voltage but a higher current.

All of the windings are wrapped around a black plastic bobbin. Two pieces of ferrite ceramic are bonded together to form the magnetic core at the heart of the transformer.

This article appears in the February 2023 print issue.

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