Auto Tech

Texas Instruments aims to make car HUDs bigger and brighter

Head-up displays, which project useful information on a car's windshield, are about to get a big performance bump from Texas Instruments.

Texas Instruments DLP-based head-up display

Texas Instrument claims that its DLP chip-based automotive head-up displays create brighter imagery with graphics visible through polarized glasses.

Texas Instruments

If you get into a new Lincoln Continental or Navigator, its optional head-up display (HUD) may surprise you with its brightness, clarity and visibility through polarized glasses. Those qualities come courtesy of a fundamentally different technology than used by other automakers. Instead of an LCD image reflected onto the windshield, Lincoln uses a Digital Light Processing chip (DLP) from Texas Instruments, which actively projects its imagery to the windshield.

A new generation of Texas Instruments' DLP chip promises to make this new HUD technology even better, making graphics appear further out in front of the car and even "painting" the road with useful information.

Lincoln used Texas Instruments' head-up display technology for its new Continental and Navigator models.

Lincoln

HUDs have gained traction in among cars in recent years. The technology can be found in everything from the most luxurious Lexus LS to the little Mini Cooper. Typically, HUDs show useful information, such as vehicle speed, at the lower edge of a car's windshield. The translucent imagery doesn't interfere with the driver's view of the road, and makes it unnecessary to look down at the instrument cluster for much of the time.

The latest HUDs show color graphics, with imagery appearing to hang in space out in front of the car.

According to Jeff Dickhart, Texas Instruments' general manager of DLP automotive products, "Some automakers are looking to turn head-up displays into the primary driving display," meaning HUDs could take the place of the traditional instrument cluster.

Talking about its latest DLP chip for HUDs, called the DLP3030-Q1, Dickhart says that Texas Instruments "reduced the package size by over 60 percent," which would make it easier for automakers to install in the dashboard of a car. With LCD-based HUDs, the size of the LCD, which can't be any bigger than the dashboard, dictates the size of the graphics.

Likewise, Dickhart touts the new chip's low power usage and automotive testing, where it can withstand temperature ranges from minus 40 all the way up to 221 degrees.

A modern head-up display, like this example from the BMW M760i, shows rich graphics giving the driver immediately useful information.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

More importantly, Dickhart says that "our technology has the fastest switching MEMs device in the world". "MEMs" means microelectromechanical, and in this case refers to an array of tiny mirrors used for the projection technology. The ability to change imagery quickly becomes important for augmented reality applications, where a camera could detect a pedestrian at night, for example, and the HUD could highlight that person with a graphic on the windshield.

Lincoln was pleased enough with Texas Instruments DLP technology to sign an exclusive deal to use it for automotive HUDs. Lincoln spokeswoman Amanda Park describes the HUD based on the DLP chip as "the brightest and biggest display size in its class." The HUD, as used in Lincoln's vehicles, is "visible in more ambient lighting conditions than its competitors, even while the driver is wearing polarized sunglasses, which makes it unique in this segment."

Texas Instruments' DLP technology, launching initially on a high-end vehicle, appears to be following a typical path in the automotive market. If it can be made cost-effective for automakers, we could see it used in many more model segments.