Aftermarket HUD Iris shows speed, nav at the top of your windshield

Automotive head-up display Iris shows vehicle speed, car maintenance messages, navigation and other information on a visor at the top of the windshield, and seeks funding through IndieGogo.

IRIS HUD
The Iris HUD mounts in place of the driver-side sun visor, putting a transparent screen at the top of the windshield. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

I've used many head-up displays in cars, mostly as factory-installed equipment, and they all put their project speed, navigation and other driving information at the bottom of the windshield, just above the dashboard. DD Technologies has a different idea, placing the projected imagery at the top of the windshield with its Iris head-up display, which launched for funding on Indiegogo.

Current aftermarket head-up units in development, such as Navdy and SenseHUD, project towards the base of the windshield, and require their hardware to sit on the dashboard. Automakers have the advantage of embedding their head-up displays in the dashboard.

The Iris solution mounts its projector in place of the driver-side sun visor, and projects its imagery on a curved, transparent screen suspended in the upper part of the windshield.

Prototype testing

The unit I tried was an early prototype. It hooked into the car's OBDII port and displayed its imagery, but the hardware looked like it could go through some more refinement. And its smartphone connectivity, including core features such as navigation and messaging, wasn't enabled.

Although my installation was rough, it only took half-an-hour to get it working. I removed the sun visor in CNET's test car, then used its mounting points to install the Iris mounting brackets. These metal plates stretched across the space where the visor used to be, and were extendable for different size cars.

With the brackets securely in place, I mounted the Iris projector unit to a central bolt and secured it in place. For the final step, I ran an included cord from the projector unit down under the dashboard, to plug into the car's OBDII port. This port lets Iris read data from the car, such as vehicle speed, engine speed, engine maintenance messages and the fuel level.

IRIS HUD
This prototype only showed information from the car's OBDII port, but the production version will add navigation and messaging from a driver's phone. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

This cable is as thick as a standard AC cord, which would make it difficult to hide over the course of its run down the side of the windshield and under the dashboard. A wireless OBDII dongle would be a more elegant solution, although then the Iris unit would need a separate power supply. Losing the sun visor will be an issue for most drivers, as well.

Turning on the car, then the Iris, I easily adjusted the screen so I could see the imagery. At startup, Iris showed a welcome animation, then gave me icons with my car's engine speed, odometer reading and engine maintenance messages. When I began driving, those icons went away and the system showed me my vehicle speed, and because this test car was running on empty, a red low-fuel icon.

While driving, I noticed that Iris' imagery remained distinct in a variety of different lighting conditions, from bright sunlight to the darkness of a parking garage. And like other HUDs I've used, I began to rely on the projected speed read-out rather than the car's instrument cluster. The car's speed hovered in my upper peripheral vision at all times, so it didn't even require a glance upwards.

The hardware in no way interfered with my forward visibility. However, the projection vibrated depending on the car's movement and the roughness of the road. Although some of that vibration could be down to prototype hardware, I believe that behavior is endemic to this type of installation, as I even see vibration in firmly-mounted rear-view mirrors in most cars.

App extended

Iris can grab vehicle data, such as speed and warning messages, from the car's ODBII port, but DD Technologies has bigger plans for its head-up display. Using a Bluetooth-connection to your smartphone, along with an Iris app, you will be able to see route guidance and messaging on the head-up display.

These features look similar to those promised by Navdy, letting you use voice command to set a destination with the app, and have Iris display upcoming turns. Likewise, Iris will be able to display meeting reminders from your calendar and include the location.

DD Technologies notes that the system would allow gesture control, letting drivers accept or decline incoming calls by swiping a hand in front of Iris.

IRIS HUD
This version of Iris uses a DLP projector, but DD Technologies is also working on one with laser-based projection. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

These app functions were not ready for testing when I looked at the prototype. DD Technologies showed off Iris at CES in January, and launched its Indiegogo campaign earlier this month. Earlier funders can get Iris for $299. DD Technologies notes that the retail price will be $499 when the device begins shipping in October of this year.

That pricing, and the prototype I looked at, is for a version of Iris that uses DLP projection. DD Technologies also proposes a pricier version of Iris with laser projection, that will offer more distinct imagery. That one, also estimated to ship in October, commands a price of $699 for early funders.

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