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Auto Tech

SenseHUD, the smartphone-powered windshield display

Head-up displays, projecting navigation and driver information on the windshield, may seem like complex technology, but with its SenseHUD, SenseDriver Technologies shows that they don't have to be.

SenseHUD head-up display
SenseHUD reflects your smartphone's display on its glass pane, which dynamically adjusts reflectivity based on ambient light. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

LAS VEGAS -- Automakers are beginning to embrace head-up displays, embedding projectors in the dashboard that show route guidance and other information low on the windshield so the driver doesn't have to take her eyes off the road. SenseDriver Technologies showed off an aftermarket head-up display with a much simpler premise here at the 2015 International CES.

The SenseHUD sits on your dashboard and projects your smartphone's screen onto its own pane of electrochromic glass. To make it work, you need SenseDriver's Hudson app running on your phone, and you have to place your phone in the adjustable SenseHUD bracket. SenseHUD's glass picks up route guidance, messaging and a speedometer from the phone screen, making it visible to the driver.

The examples SenseDriver brought to CES 2015 were still beta units, meaning the plastic-cased item was not a finished product. However, the projection quality and app looked to be production-ready.

The base of the unit includes a slot with adjustable arms into which you can slide your phone. For the demonstration, SenseDriver used a relatively large Android phone, which tucked neatly into the slot. The glass pane on top sits on an adjustable mount. It can be folded completely flat and adjusted to a comfortable angle for viewing while driving.

The SenseHUD includes electronics to control the tint and reflective quality of the glass, and pairs with the driver's smartphone via Bluetooth, so the device needs to be plugged into the car's 12-volt power point. A convenient USB port in the SenseHUD lets you keep your phone charged while it's in the unit, a good thing as its screen will be in constant use.

SenseHUD head-up display
The SenseHUD can show route guidance, messaging or this virtual speedometer. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The Hudson app makes up the brains of the SenseHUD, enabling navigation, messaging and drive information. SenseDriver has developed an Android version of Hudson, and is working on an iOS version. This app includes its own online navigation system, so you won't be using Google Maps or Apple Maps. Likewise, the app includes its own voice engine, so forget Siri or Google Voice.

Using voice command, you can have it look up destinations and start navigation, or change modes to messaging or a speedometer display. Messaging integrates with your phone's own texting, reading out messages and letting you dictate replies. While this function worked on the Android phone used for the demonstration, iOS tends to be a little trickier about letting third-party apps use messaging. A SenseDriver engineer said the company was considering alternatives to enable messaging on iOS versions of the Hudson app.

The speedometer display relies on the phone's own GPS and accelerometer, which tends to be accurate at driving speeds. SenseDriver plans to add the capability to integrate with an OBD-II dongle in a future release, so it would derive further information from the car itself.

The projection itself looked good during the demonstration. The imagery on the phone screen, reflected in the SenseHUD's glass, appeared on a vertical plane despite the glass being tilted. The imagery appeared to float a few inches ahead of the glass, on the opposite side from the driver. The route guidance imagery looked particularly good in full color.

The SenseHUD's projection is not as sophisticated as that of more complex HUD systems, and doesn't quite make the leap to augmented reality, but it does make a virtue of simplicity. Relying on the phone for the display is a stroke of genius, although the Hudson app means you might not get to use the navigation or voice command platform with which you are most comfortable.

One of the SenseHUD's real strengths is its price. SenseDriver just kicked off a limited preorder campaign, offering the SenseHUD for $99. The company will determine final pricing at a later time. In addition, the Hudson app will cost $9.99. Converted, that's about £65 pounds or AU$120 and £6.60 or AU$12.40 respectively.

SenseHUD head-up display units should become available in mid-2015.

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