What began in France continues in France… a short history and the future promise of HUDs

A relatively primitive version of what we call heads up displays (HUDs) has existed for decades. First in use by the military during World War II, a reflector sight projected the image of a target in the eye-line of a fighter pilot, ensuring a clear and undisturbed focal point at the most crucial moment of attack, allowing a pilot to act with precision, a heightened degree of safety and, more importantly, a higher certainty of success. This early use captured the essence of what future HUDs might do: impart crucial information in the moment it was needed, and in a way that wouldn’t distract the user, enhancing and not detracting from, the experience.

But it wasn’t until the 1960s when a French innovator imagined something more. Gilbert Klopfstein, a test pilot and inventor, felt he could expand this technology to give pilots crucial information to be used at any time, not just during war. His first effort centered on how to help pilots take off and land in poor- and low-visibility conditions without their having to shift and refocus their gaze from their gauges to the hard-to-see horizon. He was certain he could use a HUD as a stand-in for the geography during these crucial flight stages, allowing pilots to stabilize before having to shift their gaze to their in-console gauges. Like most innovations, Klopfstein’s idea got a rocky start; not everyone agreed this was a useful application or felt it could be implemented in a way that would not endanger or distract pilots. However, at a certain point, and after extensive testing, there was a classic “tipping point”. Now this type of HUD is ubiquitous in aviation, and has spread to other industries.

However, the adoption of this technology for the everyday consumer has followed a similar rocky path, filled with equal parts skepticism and hope, trials and error. There have been issues with scale and budget, clarity and display, battery life and connectivity, design and comfort. Displays have been burdensome or distracting, prohibitively expensive, and have left users disappointed. Some HUD applications have been so niche or novelty that the promise of mass adoption has seemed elusive, even unfathomable. And some efforts have just been moved to the proverbial back burner, while other tech has taken center stage.

The challenges inherent in mass adoption are many, yet each attempt over the years has inched us closer in one way or another to this technology’s next “tipping point”, even as it has eluded us thus far.

At ActiveLook, we’ve come to see mass adoption of heads up displays as not only possible, but inevitable.

Our company of innovators - like Monsieur Klopfstein, also from France - have used organic light-emitting diodes - our MicroOLED technology - to create an “ingredient” technology for a group of users that is vast and ever-growing: the sports enthusiast. With a simple shift of a user’s gaze, the ActiveLook application allows athletes real-time access to key performance data, helping them train better and smarter. Like the military precision in the first HUDs, this allows athletes to focus solely on the information they need in the moment they need it, without having to look at their version of a fighter plane console - the smart watch, the fitness or activity tracker.

As with most technology, bigger is not necessarily better. The years have taught us how to minimize not only the projector, but the demand on power and size of the display. ActiveLook projects in classic highly-visible green monochrome only the data programmed for display on the inside lens of an otherwise typical pair of sleek sport sunglasses. What looks unremarkable from the outside holds decades of innovation and complex and layered technology inside.

In subsequent articles, we'll talk in more detail about OLED technology, what we call “Lite AR”, our company, our expertise, and how we’ve partnered with others to help them enhance and expand their own line of products and offerings. To learn more about ActiveLook and partnerships, or to be notified of future articles, please sign up for our mailing list. You can also follow us here at ActiveLook on LinkedIn

April 28, 2022

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