Bay Area company bringing HUD displays to cars


F-18 fighter jet pilots use heads-up-displays to land planes on aircraft carriers. It's technology that has gone mainstream from commercial jets to your car. "It's a great feature that allows the driver to keep his eyes on the road while receiving important information," says BMW's Vinny Gozzo.

"You know, eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. And, this is the kind of technology that enables people to do that," says Richard James with General Motors. Heads-up displays on cars aren't new. General Motors first started using it in 1998 and BMW has offered it on select models since 2006. It is a relatively simple concept. Information, like the vehicle speed, is projected onto the windshield from a device mounted in the dash board. It's only visible within the driver's line of sight.

The equipment adds around another $1,000 to the price, but the benefits may be priceless. Distracted driving is a growing problem whether it's from cellphones, putting on make-up, or portable GPS devices. The U.S. Department of Transportation reported in 2010, that 3,092 people were killed and another 416,000 were injured in car crashes involving a distracted driver. Some 290,000 drivers surveyed reported their GPS device caused an accident or a near miss.

Car makers say putting that information on the windshield keeps the driver's eyes on the road. "It is safe because it displays an image within the driver's line of sight going down the road, but it's not displayed in a way that's distracting," Gozzo said. And, a Silicon Valley company thinks it's found a way to make those GPS displays better. "With Virtual Cable, you basically look at it with peripheral vision," says Virtual Cable co-inventor Tom Zamojdo. Manufactured by MVS California, Virtual Cable is a 3-D translucent line in the sky for drivers to follow. "It's sort of line a third lane marker in the sky," Zamojdo says.

It is military-grade technology scaled down, made for real people. It's capable of projecting miles ahead of the driver and can even highlight businesses along the way. "Car makers and car drivers are really eager to find something that helps them find their way that's up and ahead of them, rather than down and in front," says Juliana Carnes Clegg with MVS California.

The technology was so ground-breaking MVS California recently won an award in the European Satellite Navigation Competition, a first for an American company. The international notoriety has attracted the attention of automakers. "If you see see it on the street, chances are we're talking to them," Clegg says.

Car makers say heads-up displays will ultimately be driven by consumer demand and the drive for safer cars. "Anything that would bring what you have to divert your eyes to, to right in front of you, will be a benefit," Gozzo says.

MVS California says it expects to have "Virtual Cable" installed in commercial vehicles like big rigs within the next two years and in your car, within three years.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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