How Heads Up Display (HUD) Works

POSTED BY Heather Johnson, UPDATED ON April 15th, 2024
How Heads Up Display (HUD) Works

For pilots, military personnel, and other professionals who require concentration on a visual subject, Heads Up Display (HUD) is becoming more and more familiar. In practice, HUD allows the user to have a clear vision of a subject whilst simultaneously displaying information such as speed, distance, or fuel level. The name Heads Up Display comes from the notion that a pilot would be able to control their plane and view information at the same time whilst their head is positioned to enable them to look up and forwards, as opposed to looking down at a display. Here we take a brief look at how heads up display (HUD) works:


The Components

There are three main pieces of the HUD:

  1. a projector
  2. a combiner
  3. a computer

The projection unit of the HUD uses a convex lens (curved outwards like a bowl) or a concave mirror (curved inwards, like the inner part of a bowl) with a liquid crystal display at the helm.

The combiner is a flat piece of glass angled and located at the front of the viewer. It exists to redirect the projected image from the projector which means users such as pilots can view a scene and data at the same time and with their heads in the same position. The computer provides the interface through which the data is displayed from the HUD and the projection unit itself.


Other Uses and Design

HUD can also be used within a head-mounted display on a helmet. This form of HUD allows the user to move freely, looking at different subjects whilst the data is projected in front of them, with no fixed location for the data to be projected onto.

Over time, the displays have naturally progressed in design and functionality. From first providing users with an image on a phosphor screen (with a coating that deteriorated over time), to a HUD with a solid-state light source such as an LED (which can be seen on commercial aircraft), to the optical waveguides in the third generation design which didn’t require a projection screen yet produced images directly in front of the computer.

The HUD has come a long way thanks to massive innovation in every component and now uses a scanning laser to display images and even videos via the system.


The Future

As seen in films such as The Terminator, HUD systems that project information directly onto the users’ retinas with lasers are also being looked into. Swimming goggles and scuba diving masks have also been looked at, where the HUD would display information inside the goggles or mask.

HUD systems have also been quite popular in cars recently and many car companies are exploring some great innovative ideas with them:

Leave a Comment