Heads-Up Display Turns Car Into Fighter Jet

While most of us will never set foot in a fighter jet, some of us can still try to get as close as possible. One of the most eye-catching features of a fighter jet (at least from the pilot’s point-of-view) is the heads-up display, so that’s exactly what [Frank] decided to build into his car to give it that touch of fighter jet style.

Heads-up displays use the small reflectivity of a transparent surface to work. In this case, [Frank] uses an LED strip placed on the dashboard to shine up into the windshield. A small amount of light is reflected back to the driver which is able to communicate vehicle statues without obscuring view of the road. [Frank]’s system is able to display information reported over the CAN bus, including voltage, engine RPM, and speed.

This display seems to account for all the issues we could think up. It automatically cycles through modes depending on driving style (revving the engine at a stoplight switches it to engine RPM mode, for example), the LEDs automatically dim at night to avoid blinding the driver, and it interfaces with the CAN bus which means the ability to display any other information in the future should be relatively straightforward. [Frank] does note some rough edges, though, namely with the power supply and the fact that there’s a large amount of data on the CAN bus that the Teensy microcontroller has a hard time sorting out.

That being said, the build is well polished and definitely adds a fighter jet quality to the car. And if [Frank] ever wants even more aviation cred for his ground transportation, he should be able to make use of a 747 controller for something on the dashboard, too.

31 thoughts on “Heads-Up Display Turns Car Into Fighter Jet

          1. My aunt had one of those. It tended to spit out its phrases at random, nonsensical, times. Then one day it said all its phrases one after the other. After that it worked properly.

            Some were a bit off. To save memory space they didn’t store ajar as a whole word. Since a was used in several phrases it paired a with jar for use when a door wasn’t fully latched. Unfortunately the programming and processing speed couldn’t string words together without gaps. So what it said was…

            “A door is a jar” instead of “A door is ajar”.

            My aunt would reply “A door is a door, not a jar!”

            Telling people their Chrysler vehicles had canned goods storage containers instead of doors was the price of saving a few bytes of storage to encode ajar as a whole word. They should have gone for a bigger chip, then used the space to have words to say which door was ajar.

          2. Regarding the A Jar problem: It seems quite strange today when we are all walking about with gigabytes of nonvolatile storage on our keychains, but in the late 1980’s a 32 kilobyte ROM was top of the line and about ten bucks a pop in quantity. It’s quite likely they were already using the largest chip either available or that their microprocessor platform could easily handle.

      1. Exactly.

        There have been no end of phone apps that simply reverse the display to project speed on the windshield. “Torque”, an app that uses a Bluetoothed OBD2 dongle to get car info has an HUD display mode as well, and there are “HUD” modules (essentially adjustable clear reflective surfaces on a phone ledge) you can get for ~$20 so all of this has been around for quite a while (and is quite annoying to drive with for any period of time).

        HUD in aircraft are there mostly for high-saturation tasks such as ILS landings in threat zones and various combat operations (eg keeping track of a jillion parameters while not getting blown out of the sky). Commercial aircraft don’t bother since (in theory) nobody’s shooting at them and radar will do.

        1. “Commercial aircraft don’t bother since (in theory) nobody’s shooting at them and radar will do.”

          My employer’s Gulfstream V corporate (Part 91 – COMMERCIAL) AIRCRAFT is indeed equipped with a HUD. It superimposes various cues that aid in situational awareness while allowing me to bring the aircraft onto the deck with a minimum of fuss. EVS and FLIR overlay are very helpful for REAL pilots.

          In an automobile, it’s another distracted driving enabler

  1. Someone needs to tell this “genius” that there’s no such thing as a “heads up display”.

    Also, what does this have to do with “turning your car into a fighter jet”? Plenty of cars, even relatively cheap ones come with head up displays these days. Putting an LED strip on your dashboard has something to do with a fighter jet? Hyperbole much?

    1. “A head-up display or heads-up display,[1] also known as a HUD, is any transparent display that presents data without requiring users to look away from their usual viewpoints.”

  2. They should make one to be coupled with GPS in yor phone that will show which lane(s) you need and which exit leads where. I have seen one from China but the price was a bit too much.

      1. This. I wonder why they haven’t done it yet, when there are a handful of apps that does this. “Head-Up Nav HUD Navigation” being my favorite, and is using Google Maps as the location provider so I’m not complaining.

  3. I thought for a second I was transported back to the 80’s until I saw he used blue leds. This could have been made with a frequency to voltage cmos and a led bar driver IC hard wired to the tacho wire and speed sensor wire. Except most cars in the 80’s had a speedo cable like on cheap mopeds today

  4. Real heads-up displays focus on infinity and can surround objects in the real world (and stay on target even when you move your head). It requires a lot of optics and a flat pane of glass for projection.

    Still waiting for someone who puts an old HUD from an F-16 or something into their car :)

    1. Unless you have some form of stereo-scopics, eg. opposing polarized filters for each eye, etc, you can’t focus an object beyond the display plane. Fighter jets may have that built into the pilots visor, but it’s a bit impractical in cars to require a driver to don eye-wear.

      There are a number of automotive heads up displays in or about to enter production that track eye position and direction and will place a visual cue around real world objects needing attention – such as pedestrians or other vehicles about to enter your path of travel. You see a red warning box around the person in the cross-walk, but the visual focal point of that box is still on the windscreen even though it perfectly frames the pedestrian in your visual field all the way across the road. Hyundai Sonata is one example.

      An ideal system of true real-world augmented reality where a ‘turn-here’ arrow virtually appears as if it were painted in your lane of travel pointing right is still a long way off. There are several companies that tout focal technologies that fake your vision out without use stereoscopy, but none have proven it and 9 of 10 physicists will be skeptical…

      1. “Unless you have some form of stereo-scopics, eg. opposing polarized filters for each eye, etc, you can’t focus an object beyond the display plan”

        This is not correct. Devices projecting image at infinity on a diagonal plane have been around for a long time. I used to have one on my old telescope – projected a bullseye target over the star field – both the target and stars could bee seen without requiring a focus shift.

    2. Was going to mention focus, but this application is using LEDs (point sources?) anyway, so it won’t matter all that much.

      We have a heads-up speedometer / cruise / etc display in our car. It took a while to get used to, because you naturally keep trying to focus on the pane of glass just ahead of your hands, only to then have to focus further out again. Once you relax and stop trying to look at it, it’s very visible, with this floating-in-your-peripheral-vision effect.

      The mirror is itself curved, which I think is what’s doing the focusing. It reflects a cluster of 7-seg LEDs in the dash. I’ll have to go have a look and think about the optics a little bit.

      Needless to say, it doesn’t do anything fancy. It just shows your speed, without having to look down (very far).

    3. The bit about focus is important. If it doesn’t focus at infinity you’re shifting focus (and attention) between the road and your windshield. Now you’re effectively obstructing your field of view while driving distracted. If fighter pilots’ HUDs didn’t focus at infinity and just threw a display on the canopy like some people do with their phones in the car, they would almost be at a disadvantage verses having to look down at their instrument panels.

  5. Maybe that’s what I’ll do with my old Sprint Motorola Photon Q nobody wants to buy. Get a piece of semi-reflective stuff to put on the inside of my car’s windshield then use the phone with a HUD app just for speed, direction etc using the phone’s GPS. IIRC it has GPS that works without the phone signals.

  6. Can these mods risk invalidating your insurance policy? You could miss a red break light on a car ahead if don’t stick with green and blue for the LEDs. I know the lights are high on the windscreen, but how do you avoid a pile-up if you miss what some truck 100 meters ahead is doing? You know what insurance companies are like, any excuse to not pay out on a policy.

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