Head-up displays, which project speed and turn-by-turn directions on your windshield, tend to show up as options in really expensive cars, such as the Audi S8. But a few companies are bringing this technology to the aftermarket, and combining it with smartphone integration to add easily accessible navigation and other features.
One such company, Cognitive AI Technologies, brought over a beta of its Carloudy head-up display to CNET, so I could try it out on the heavily trafficked streets of downtown San Francisco.
Rather than a projector mounted discreetly in the dashboard, the Carloudy projector, basically a tablet, relied on Velcro strips to hold it face up just under the windshield of the demo car. A rectangle of transparent, flexible plastic stuck to the windshield reflected the Carloudy display, so I could see it with just a downwards glance.
This display set-up wasn't exactly elegant, but it worked. I had to shift the Carloudy tablet on its velcro strips to make it visible for my seating position. E-ink, the same type of display material used in the Amazon Kindle, made its imagery visible in bright sunlight.
But there's a bit more to Carloudy than just this display. The system relies on a smartphone paired through Bluetooth, running the Carloudy app, to process voice command and navigation. An OBDII plug-in connects the system to the car, pulling data from the car's own engine data network.
With Carloudy running, I drove through downtown San Francisco, glancing down at the 25 mph speed limit projected on the windshield and the car's actual 2 mph crawl through traffic, at least assuring I wouldn't be getting a speeding ticket. Finding a more open street, I hit the gas and heard a chime from Carloudy. Whoops, I must have, just for a brief moment, gone over the speed limit, triggering the system's speed warning. Fortunately, that chime can be silenced in Carloudy's settings.
Carloudy's speed display lagged behind the actual speed of the car, which I found a little problematic.
The OBDII plug-in device may enable a lot of functionality in the future, but for this demo the main feature available was navigation. Carloudy does something clever here, repurposing Bluetooth commands to from car to app. For example, hitting the skip track button on the steering wheel, which would normally jump a track when playing music from your phone, instead let me ask Carloudy for a destination.
As I drove, I pushed one of the steering wheel-mounted buttons and used voice command to ask Carloudy to find a gas station or, similarly, I told it to navigate to a gas station. With the former command, it gave me a list of nearby gas stations, while the latter immediately began navigation to the nearest one. I could also tell it to "find food," and it gave me a list of nearby restaurants.
With navigation active, Carloudy's head-up display showed turn-by-turn directions, guiding me to the destination.
While I found this use of Bluetooth clever, it does present a problem. It may preclude streaming music from the phone to the car's stereo. This demonstration used an Android phone, an operating system that is reasonably flexible in running multiple apps with Bluetooth connections. However, iPhones may not support the Carloudy Bluetooth connection and Bluetooth audio streaming at the same time.
Because of its E-ink display, Carloudy doesn't burn through batteries as fast as an LCD would, but it does need to be recharged. Cognitive AI Technologies notes that it should run for about two weeks between charges, based on an hour of driving each day. Depending on where you park your car, you probably won't want to leave it Velcroed to the dashboard all the time.
I found Carloudy's imagery easy to view and very usable. Once you get used to a head-up display, glancing down at its projection becomes second nature. The navigation interaction was also quite good in this demonstration.
However, it is definitely a niche product. First, your car will need to support Bluetooth. Most new cars do, and you can always upgrade an older car with an aftermarket unit. You have to be OK with a velcro-mounted tablet sitting on the dashboard, as well.
Carloudy is launching as a Kickstarter project, with early bird pricing at $179, compared to a $259 final price. You can check the Carloudy site for timing of the Kickstarter launch.