“Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel” has been a dictum from the NHTSA (U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and it has led the automotive supplier industry to take a harder look at the heads-up display. The hope is that product improvement and cost reduction will turn what has been a niche product into a high-volume feature.
Panasonic at last week's North American International Auto Show in Detroit featured its current offering as well as what it is planning to have ready for vehicles in the 2016 model year. It is aiming at size reduction. Its first entry was a “mini”—a small unit that is already on sale for use with its navigation system, to provide a heads-up display of turn-by-turn directions. Installed on the top of the dashboard a short distance from the projector unit, it produces a 148 x 72 mm (5.8-x-2.8-in) display from a 1.3-m (51-in) viewing distance.
However, Panasonic’s forthcoming, primary entry will be a competitor for a leading unit already on the market. It has a 240 x 90-mm (9.45 x 3.54-in) display from a viewing distance of 2.0 m (78 in). This compares with 210 mm x 90 mm (8.27 x 3.5 in) from 2.2 m (86 in) for the competitive unit. The Panasonic is at least 40% smaller. The “full-size” units, although significantly larger than the “mini,” provide nearly twice the size of the display, and so can show far more information.
The size reduction was achieved by mounting electronics on a proprietary plastic board that provides high heat-transfer qualities, according to James Grace, Director of Advanced Engineering for the Panasonic's Automotive Systems Group. This mounting permits a large reduction in the size of the heat sink. Heat buildup in the projector assembly is a major issue for heads-up displays, which contain magnifying glass that intensifies heat from sunlight, and so existing modules have large heat sinks.
The display can show real-time traffic, including adjacent lanes, and flash warning indications, such as a vehicle coming into its path. So long as the selection of information is what the motorist wants most of the time, he has no reason to repeatedly refocus to check the instrument cluster.