True3D Head Up Display keeps drivers focused on the road


October 25, 2011

Simulated display for the True3D satnav system (Image: Making Virtual Solid)

Simulated display for the True3D satnav system (Image: Making Virtual Solid)

Image Gallery (3 images)

If you've ever been found yourself hopeless lost at the end of a mountain logging road at 2 a.m. on a moonless night with the fuel gauge flashing "empty", you'll agree that satellite navigation is a pretty good idea. For drivers who routinely travel to new destinations in unfamiliar places or simply lack even a basic sense of direction, they are a godsend. Unfortunately, they can also be very difficult to use. The satnav receiver may be a little plastic screen propped on the seat next to the driver, mounted in a plastic claw or built in to the dashboard, but what they all have in common is that the driver has to either keep glancing away from the road or hope they hear the voice prompt correctly before the exit goes flashing by. This is not only inefficient, it's potentially distracting and dangerous. Even the head-up displays (HUD) found on some high-end cars only moderate the problem by moving the small display from the dash to the windscreen. What's need is something that keeps the driver's eyes on the road by unobtrusively blending in with the real world beyond the windscreen.

That's the idea behind the True3D, which recently won the EUR20,000 Galileo Master 2011 grand prize at this year's European Satellite Navigation Competition in Munich, Germany.

Developed by the California-based company Making Virtual Solid, True3D is billed as "an augmented reality navigational display engine designed to provide non-distracting, translucent location guidance." That's another way of saying that True3D takes the HUD to its logical conclusion.

3D Head Up Display

Instead of one tiny rectangle down by the windscreen wipers, the True3D system uses a 3D projector technology to beam the display across the entire front window of the car. With a standard satnav readout, that would be like pasting a road map over the glass and about as dangerous, but what the True3D system does is blend its readout into what the driver sees on the road in front of the vehicle. It layers a luminous, three-dimensional landscape over the real world so that the information the driver needs is available without distraction.

For example, the little colored line on a satnav map that tells the driver where to go becomes a luminous "virtual cable" overhead that works like those stripes sometimes used in hospital corridors. It also throws up virtual road signs to warn of conditions ahead and service stations, hotels and other attractions are identified by virtual signs floating above them. All of these are rendered with a degree of volume and solidity that is intended to be comfortable to look at and increase situational awareness.

A comparison of the Virtual Cable (TM) with existing car navigation systems

The tricky part of all this was to make the True3D system do all this and to maintain the visual clues such as depth perception and focus distance without the need for headpieces, special glasses or viewers. According to Making Virtual Solid, the technology requires only a small hardware package, operates in bright sunlight and is unaffected by either the driver or car's movements so that the illusion remains stable. In addition, the display can project more traditional text and graphics, though in larger size and closer to the driver's eye level. In all, it works to provide drivers with the a trimmed down version sort of no-need-to-think-about-it stream of information normally only enjoyed by fighter pilots, though without the frightening insect-like helmets.

The Making Virtual Solid True3D system is still at the demonstration level, but if it is as adaptable as claimed and can operate successfully in the real world, then it has the potential to make a big difference for driving safety.

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

It would be useful only if it projects the image onto the windshield or some sort of inexpensive barrier. If people have to pay a few thousand to replace the windshield when it inevitably develops cracks and other marks, then nobody will buy this thing except for the ultra-wealthy.


And we will and up with an information overloaded windshield that could hijack the drivers attention to browse icons on it instead of concentrating to driving safe... I also not sure it\'s good idea to cover the windshield with visually protruding color objects that has very little actual importance (logos of fastfoods, cafes, etc.), but works more as commercials...

Iván Imhof

I would actually think that eventually we will have cars driving themselves so why bother with this technology.

David Codish

Is it just me, or is that a freakin\' scary Best Western? Maybe Bates is the franchisee?


I love it - I can\'t wait to see how manufacturers will incorporate it into new interior designs - I see no need of a real dashboard any more, as this can display all sorts of information, far beyond what our analog instrumentation does today - as a motorcyclist, it would be ideal to incorporate into helmet faceshields of the future. I wonder if it can work for people who wear corrective lenses too - will they need bi-focals?


Love it!

Adam Cecchini

Awesome!!, the need for transparent sign overlays is going to have to be adjustable...or automatic sensing daylight and optimizing the display to not interfere with visibility...simple as automatic headlights i would imagine...

John Parkes

Now for my idea....Use the thing to put a black dot over the sun when you are driving towards that direction! I hate glare. Safety first!


My thanks to David Szondy for describing our technology so cogently. It\'s rare we see such elegant writing around our tech. Thank you!

To the comments: Only two I really want to address...

Re: Special Windshield - is there one? Expensive to replace? Rich people\'s toy etc... Answer: No special windshield required. While the system is easiest to calibrate with certain types of windshield than others, in NO event is a production model of this unit intended to require a special windshield, or any additional coatings or treatments.

Re: Cluttering the driver\'s view. This is a deeply important issue, and one we have very strong feelings about. First off - the image you guys see, above, is a sort of \"comparo\" showing you different types of HUD imagery (ours and others), and different types of symbology (Virtual Cable, Virtual Signs, MPH in 2D). Such a demo picture does not accurately reflect a typical, or even permissible real-world application of the HUD.

We\'ll be going into deep HMI testing soon, to create a definitive \"best practices\" guideline to ensure that eager, ambitious and creative partner companies aren\'t tempted to overload the Field of View.

We quite agree that too much of a good thing frankly isn\'t. So we\'ll be drilling down on this issue like no other. Watch this space. ;) And keep the intelligent comments and questions coming. - Juliana Clegg, COO, MVSC

Juliana Clegg

@ Ivan Imhof: I'd have to disagree with what you're saying here. Whether you like it or not, people spend a LOT of time looking for exactly those things. Having these logos displayed would make it far quicker and easier to spot them. Also, I'm sure you could have them turned off until you needed them. @ VoiceOfReason: The darkened spot over the sun would be awesome, but it would require either glasses or a sophisticated system that constantly was aware of the position of the driver's eyes in relation to the windshield. Neat idea though.

Dave Andrews

I think anything that would help navigation, especially in poor visibility situations, like this system would be a tremendous achievement. If it could be coupled with voice prompts (optional) it would be that much more useful.

I can see it being even further developed by incorporating voice recognition/AI such as SIRI: \"Show me the closest gas station,\" or \"Where is the nearest drive-through restaurant?\"


And, of course, virtual signposting can be in language of choice. Helpful to those whose first language is not that of the country in which they\'re driving.

Doesn\'t this have to have a pretty good idea of where your head/eyes are anyway in order to properly line up anything with the view through the windscreen? I mean, you still see through the windscreen right?


Thanks for all your amazingly clever comments - Yes we intend to allow consumers to be able to select, and un-select anything of a commercial nature. Secondly, @martin says it\'s all available in language of choice - absolutely. Ultimately, the \"guide wire\" image should obviate language entirely - no need to make changes. But other cues, like \"Banhof\" in lieu of \"train station\" would be quite helpful.

Juliana Clegg

@ VoiceOfReason: You could integrate that with the results of an IR camera mounted to the front, showing images of people or animals on the road in low viz situations.

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