We spend lots of time writing about adaptive cruise control, lane-assist, and other safety systems that herald the eventual arrival of fully autonomous cars. But there are plenty of other high-tech treats on the market -- treats designed to make driving safer and easier.
Consider for example the head-up display or HUD. HUDs are found on an increasing number of vehicles, providing drivers with quick info on speed, fuel usage, and more. The displays themselves are typically small, but over time they'll likely grow in size and functionality, perhaps rivaling the insane HUD glimpsed on the BMW i8 in Mission Impossible 4.
HUDs are important because they eliminate the need for drivers to take their eyes off the road to glance at a center stack or dashboard gauge. As an added bonus, HUDs can often be cheap, because in their simplest form, they're little more than projections on a windshield.
If you've never experienced driving with a HUD, you now have the chance, thanks to a new app from Russian startup RIT.
The app in question is called Hudway, and it's free for iPhone users. (An equally free Android version is expected by February 2014.) Though it doesn't offer much information about your car's internal workings (e.g. remaining fuel, fuel economy, etc.), it can guide you from Point A to Point B.
As you'll see from the video above, using Hudway is a straightforward process: just set your start and end points and go. You can use it like a normal smartphone navigation system by looking directly at the screen, but it's meant to be used as a poor man's HUD, making route info available on your windshield. To do that, just tap the "HUD" button, and place your phone on the dashboard, near the windshield. Though the phone isn't technically a projector, Hudway's high-contrast, reversible interface means that it's easily reflected on glass.
When it works properly, Hudway can hold its own with some other navigation systems. However, Hudway does have a couple of shortcomings:
1. It's useless in bright light. Even with the high-contrast display, the reflection off your smartphone's screen isn't as bright as a true HUD: it needs a dark background to show up clearly. That may be less of an issue for the next few months as those of us in the northern hemisphere contend with shorter days and, quite often, gloomy winter weather. But come springtime, you'll get less use from it.
2. It's not very smart. With most navigation programs, you simply set an endpoint, and the program calculates the best route for you. Should you have to change routes mid-journey, your route gets recalculated. But Hudway doesn't rely on endpoints, just routes, meaning that if you go off-course, you throw the whole thing off. To get back on track, you have to stop and re-calibrate your journey. That's massively inconvenient. (And in 2013, a little sloppy.)
3. It's difficult to position. If you're fortunate enough to have a large, flat dashboard, maybe this won't be an issue, but otherwise, keeping your phone in the same place could be problematic. If you really like the app, consider investing in a cradle.
4. Many iTunes reviewers complain that the app frequently crashes. It did so once on us, but that may have been because we had other things running in the background.
Hudway is far from perfect, but if you'd like a quick glimpse of what driving with an HUD is like, it's enough to give you a taste. Perhaps some of the other apps in the pipeline -- apps like Automatic, for example -- can take Hudway's idea and improve on it, integrating other services apart from just navigation.