We Need Windshield Displays In Cars, But Big Challenges Remain

Meet Margie. She’s 36, married, and works as a career counselor at a professional school. With two boys, ages 7 and 10, Margie’s mornings are hectic. After a quick breakfast, she loads the boys and her gym bag in the car. From the car, Margie does a quick check of the family calendar to make sure the boys have everything they need for the day. While her younger son runs back inside for his cleats, Margie orders pastries to pick up as a treat for her morning staff meeting and maps the route between the boys’ school and the pastry shop.
Margie needs solutions that help deliver a precious commodity: time.
Today, this hypothetical, but common juggling act is performed with the help of laptops, mobile phones, and good old-fashioned footwork. But imagine that Margie is not only doing these tasks in her car, she’s doing them with her car. And the monitor isn’t embedded in the dash, it’s embedded in her windshield. Far-fetched? Not really. A world where car windshields double as display panels is not that far off. So-called HUDs (for Heads-Up Displays) have actually been in use for about 20 years. So far, they’ve had only limited applications, like displaying speedometer data at eye level. HUDs are still new, but they’re becoming more than just an idea in a sci-fi novel.
General Motors is already demonstrating prototype HUDs that work with sensor systems in cars to create real-time video overlays of the road ahead. The goal is to help drivers navigate in low-visibility conditions, and the result is pretty amazing. GM’s new HUDs put the Tron in automotive electronics. Can systems that integrate Skype or let you tweet traffic conditions or order a takeout pizza (with the car parked, of course) be far behind? I doubt it. The biggest issue right now is that car companies need to standardize how customers will interact with these windshields. And from the wide variations of current auto entertainment console designs alone, this may be temporary major hurdle we’ll need to overcome. It’s changing daily and the rush to define this experience is happening now. In the ancient, bygone world of, say, five minutes ago, usability professionals generally focused on desktop computers and laptops, as well as smartphones and other web-enabled mobile devices. We now need to rethink our definitions of devices and audience to encompass—and create—Margie’s reality.
Car companies need to standardize these windshield interactions.
In a new wi-fi world order, connected devices will proliferate and content mobility will rule. Imagine interacting with cars, elevators, park benches, shopping carts, in-store advertising, mass transit, eye glasses, and home appliances, to name a few. This is already happening now. In that kind of world, the “audience” is almost always connected. To cut through the noise, marketers will need to think of audiences not only in terms of who they are, but in terms of their life patterns. Now that Margie has an assortment of means for interacting with brands and services, successfully reaching her will require knowing her preferences for interaction. That’s why I think windshield interaction is on the near horizon. With hectic schedules and increasing traffic, we’re already spending more time in our cars. That’s unlikely to change and, if anything, this will only be more true in the future. That’s why Margie needs solutions that help deliver a precious commodity: time. Clever applications for windshield displays can help provide that, and perhaps solve other problems in the process. Entrepreneurs and urban planners are demonstrating this kind of innovative thinking by creating GPS-based parking systems that guide drivers to the nearest open parking space. For drivers, this eliminates the hassle and headache of finding a spot. For cities, it eliminates a big source of air pollution. Everybody wins. Device proliferation opens a world of possibilities. It’s a pretty cool world to envision...right through your windshield display. [Top image, of tail lights through a rain-splattered windshield, by Wonderlane]

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