Autonomous Vehicles

Published on September 1st, 2017 | by Kyle Field

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The Navdy Intelligent Heads-Up Display Makes In-Car Productivity Safe, For The First Time (CleanTechnica Review)

September 1st, 2017 by  

We all know texting while driving is terrible and unsafe, and yet many of us continue to do it. Reading email, changing the internet radio station, and blurting out the most exciting 140 characters from our day aren’t texting, so “they must be safe” — and so we continue. But yeah, it’s bad and we have a problem. This could be an intervention of sorts (do you need one?) because what all of these activities boil down to are small, terribly trivial activities that have the potential to be life threatening for us and those around us. One of the key problems with all of these is that they require us to take our eyes off the road.

The folks over at Navdy built a beautiful heads-up display (HUD) that can be bolted on (not literally) any vehicle, drastically improving the safety of basic functions like maps and navigation in the car. Beyond that, Navdy has built in other infotainment and app integrations that take it to the next level and keep drivers safer while in motion. With all of the hype over Model 3 not having a HUD and EVs really representing the latest in vehicle and infotainment technologies, the Navdy team sent us a unit to run through the paces.

At it’s core, the Navdy unit is comprised of a high-power pico projector that blasts crisp video onto its display. The unit is intended to be mounted in a position that puts the display in line with the natural line of sight of the driver without impeding visibility.

Installation

The Navdy team built a low, medium and high mount for the unit to ensure compatibility with the maximum number of vehicles and driver heights. A magnetic base then snaps into the mount, which provides power to the unit through an OBD-II port that allows the unit to connect to the Controller Area Network (CAN) bus of the vehicle. These adapters exist in all cars and light trucks from 1996 forward in the US. The European Union also standardized an OBD port under the EODB port that has been standard in all petrol vehicles since 2001 and in all diesel vehicles since 2004.

A hardwired connection to the car means that some installation work is required — though, in the handful of vehicles I inspected, it was all in or near the dash with most being tucked into the driver footwell area. Navdy has a neat little site that helps new and prospective owners find the OBD-II port location in their vehicles. The install kit acknowledges the cabling requirement with the inclusion of cable guides that keep the cable secure and as far out of sight as possible.

Connecting to the Car Audio System

Navdy needs to communicate with drivers and does so through a wide variety of options. The most straight-forward and most common of these is through the bluetooth connection on a smartphone. With most smartphone users already wanting to connect their phones to their vehicles, the thinking is that this lowest common denominator approach makes it that much easier for the majority of users to connect Navdy to the car audio system. The two vehicles I installed Navdy in featured native Bluetooth audio functionality and it worked perfectly in both.

The one quirk with this is that some vehicles do use a phone’s Bluetooth functionality for both music (via Spotify, Slacker, Pandora, local files, etc.) and for phone functions. As these two functionalities connect to the car differently, there was a noticeable — but not show-stopping — pause while the phone and car switched from audio to phone for Navdy and back.

For drivers and vehicles that do not have a Bluetooth system in the car, more traditional connections to the car audio system via a radio frequency transmitter are available. In fact, the roughly 20% of existing Navdy owners surveyed who did not have a Bluetooth-capable car audio system were some of the most satisfied in Navdy’s user polls.

This makes sense, as older cars that don’t have an existing Bluetooth connection also probably don’t have navigation or other smartphone integrations and have the most to gain from installing a high-tech device like Navdy.

How Does Navdy Work?

Navdy works by integrating smartphone-style hardware with integrated storage, GPS, and driver-facing camera functionality — to name a few things — and then a flip-up see-through display. A projector casts an image up onto the screen that is then reflected back to the driver, making the image float on top of the road. See above for what the navigation looks like — though, the screen is more crisp than displayed above due to the nature of projector frame rates.

The resulting display is bright and beautiful, making maps with navigation instructions easy to see. The brightness dynamically adjusts to ambient conditions, which ensures it is safe to see and use even in the most difficult light. That is a bold claim, but I confirmed it in my hundreds of miles of driving around with the Navdy unit. Brightness became an afterthought for all but a handful of situations. Because it was very clearly visible over the top of the road without blocking visibility, it became natural to use while driving instead of the typical map on a center console or even on a windshield mounted smartphone, which tends to block visibility.

The User Interface

The driver interacts with Navdy through a scroll wheel and button combination that clips onto the steering wheel. It uses an industry-standard CR2032 battery, and contrary to what I was expecting, becomes very intuitive and thoughtless to use. That speaks to the attention to designing an intuitive user interface that Navdy put into the device, as good design should blend into a space, adding value while detracting nothing from the experience.

The button and scroll wheel are used to wake up the device and select an option. Data entry to Navdy is done primarily through voice commands, powered by Google. For Android users, this includes the same command syntax used on the device, with minor differences. I was impressed with the functionality and intuitive interface out of the box and did not feel like I needed to go through hours of training before I could use it.

I did, however, spend hours digging into Navdy’s support for the device, which can be found on Navdy’s site. I found it to be better than average — if not downright solid. Users enter the automotive technology space at all levels and it is a monstrous challenge to develop a device, interface, and training suite that meets all needs, but Navdy has done a great job.

All the Functionality

Looking beyond just a nice navigation display, Navdy has integrated music control, text message alerts and reading, email alerts and reading, and more through a series of what it calls glances. As the name implies, Navdy offers a single glance of the update or notification with a few options. For example, it will show you who texted and provide an option to read the message aloud with integrated message dictation. Depending on who is texting, you can also dismiss the alert without reading it aloud and the same functionality exists for a variety of notifications (from email and Twitter, for example).

Adding new functionality into a brand new car like the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric or the Tesla Model S offers incremental value. However, no matter the car, it can be a massive tool for productivity for drivers who want to get caught up on all the latest emails (being read to them while driving) while sitting in a daily commute. The heads-up display is much safer than any OEM display technology I have experienced, regardless of where it is located.

The Tesla Model 3 seems to be a lucrative target for Navdy with so many thousands of users begging (hoping?) for the vehicle to include a heads-up display and who simply don’t want to look over at the center display for speed or other traditional gauge cluster data.

The product really shines in older vehicles that don’t have built-in navigation or advanced app functionality. In those vehicles, Navdy provides a relatively low-cost upgrade that can make an older vehicle feel brand new and cutting edge again.

Looking Forward

As it stands today, Navdy is a very intelligent, very functional device at a price point that reflects its cutting-edge specs and design. It normally retails for $499, but at the time of this writing, it is on a limited special for $399. That feels high to me as an offering to mainstream users, but to be fair, it is representative of just how cutting edge the tech is. As with most consumer products, as the technology volumes go up, prices should come down as a result of scale and continued innovation.

For more information, head over to the Navdy shopping page, which has all of the fun details, tech specs, and marketing material for the device.

Also, we owe a thanks to a reader for helping us to discover and explore this. One of you dropped the link in a comment, which quickly got our excitement juices flowing.


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About the Author

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. TSLA investor. Tesla referral link: http://ts.la/kyle623



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