Navdy’s heads-up display, which equips car dashboards with a small screen that can display directions and notifications, is finally shipping after two years of hype.
Heads-up displays are trickling into luxury cars, but the $799 Navdy was born to be an aftermarket option. Its thin black base can be affixed to dashboards above the steering wheel, where it holds up a small transparent display. The screen floats, seemingly suspended against the bottom segment of the car’s windshield.
On a rainy October morning, I drove CEO and cofounder Doug Simpson through San Francisco’s congested SoMa neighborhood. We set our destination in Navdy’s iPhone app, which prompted directions to appear on the display. It looked like a stripped-down version of Google Maps. White lines marked roads, while a teal line indicated my path.
The dream for heads-up displays is a device that can seem to place directions directly on the road in front of the driver. Navdy isn’t there yet. Instead, its display is meant to be an alternative to glancing down at a phone or a screen in the center console. I still had to shift my gaze from the road to Navdy’s screen, but it was a much shorter distance for my eyes to travel.
Since the initial reveal of the product two years ago, Navdy has put work into balancing the display’s brightness and crispness. Floating a display in the air requires making it bright enough to compete with the light behind it. As a result, the Navdy display is 40 times brighter than an iPhone, according to Simpson. The result is pretty good. Though it’s relatively small, Navdy’s display is easy to read—something Simpson says was difficult to achieve.
Navdy will ship the device with a small click wheel that attaches to the steering wheel next to users’ thumbs. Originally, users controlled Navdy with a long list of gestures. Now, it’s pretty much just waving your hand left or right; the rest is handled by scrolling with the click wheel. Simpson described it as a much more immersive and natural experience, which I confirmed during our drive.
Along with directions, Navdy can also display notifications for communications like calls, texts, and tweets. The notifications appear on the right side of the screen and can be accepted or dismissed by waving your hand left or right. Users can also speak to Siri through Navdy, scroll through music libraries, or display information about their car.
Navdy makes sense for people who have a tendency to look at their phone while they drive. But I never look at notifications while in the car, and the sudden need to accept or dismiss them on my dash felt like an intrusion into my attention. Joseph Gabbard, a professor of human factors engineering at Virginia Tech who studies augmented reality, says researchers are still looking for the right balance between visual guidance and distraction. There’s an assumption that a heads-up display is always better, but it’s possible to overload people with information.
“There’s absolutely a cost to switching out to the road and back to these,” Gabbard says. “It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still a cost.”