Heads Up – A Look at Present and Future Motorcycle HUDs

Heads up displays have been around for decades.  They’ve been in use by the military for over 60 years and commercial aviation for around 30 years. Back in 1988 you could actually buy an Oldsmobile with one. But it’s only in recent years that they’ve become more commonplace in the mass consumer market, slowly trickling down from luxury cars like BMW and Mercedes, with Mazda introducing it in all but the lowest spec of their new Mazda 3.

Given a rider needs to have their attention looking at the road as much as possible, a HUD seems to make sense for motorcycles.  Being able to know your speed in suburban areas or getting directions via GPS on a HUD seems much safer than looking continuously down at your instrument cluster. We’ve therefore taken a look at three options that each take a different approach but are all specifically made for motorcycle riders.

The Bike-HUD

The first motorcycle HUD we’ll look at is unique in that it’s already available to purchase.  No future promises, no relying on crowd funding to bring it to production.  You can go to their website and buy it today.  It’s also not a true HUD either, but it’s the closest thing you can currently get so we felt it deserved a closer look.

The Bike-HUD is actually the brainchild and creation of one man, Dave Vout from England.  His original goal was to develop something to help him better see behind him and the idea of a HUD with rear view camera was born.  Ironically, the Bike-HUD ended up not offering any rear view capabilities but may do some with an upgrade module in the future.

As stated, it’s not a true HUD in that you don’t see the information displayed on a transparent screen.  Instead, it’s in effect a small screen that sits at the bottom left or right of the rider’s visor and the company prefers to use the term near eye display.  It is capable of showing the rider their speed, gear, a tachometer plus even if your indicators are on.  It has a track mode that shows lap and split times and a countdown timer for timed sessions.  An app is also available that provides basic turn by turn navigation when coupled to an iPhone.

This is all very impressive from a single man with a dream and passion.  But unfortunately that shows through in other areas. Firstly is how it’s installed. In addition to the rather cumbersome method in which the unit is attached inside the helmet, you also have to place the actual computer controller unit for the display somewhere on your bike. That computer then has to be connected via cord to the display.  Yuck.

Gearing up for a ride is already a time consuming process and I’m not sure if I like the idea of having to attach/put on another piece of gear every ride, let alone finding a place to store the cable when not in use.  On the other hand, it does eliminate the need for recharging batteries. I’m also not totally enamored with the idea of a large (albeit rounded) object sitting within my helmet which though unlikely, could come loose in a crash.

In comparison to the Skully AR-1 and NUVIZ below, the Bike-HUD already looks a bit like yesterday’s technology.  It doesn’t have the great looking display the other two promise to have nor the sleek and futuristic look of them.  But the Bike-HUD is already here and there’s no guarantee those other products will become a reality.  And given this was all started by just one guy, we’re pretty impressed. Price is approximately $485.

Skully AR-1

The AR-1 by Skully Helmets is different to the two other systems looked at here as the motorcycle HUD has been integrated with the helmet itself.  So in fact, you’re purchasing a helmet that comes with a HUD and not a HUD that you attach to any helmet you own.  That’s both good and bad.

Good because it should mean the HUD is perfectly calibrated for the rider.  It also means there’s an inbuilt rear vision camera that pipes the footage to the HUD which could be a nice safety feature.  Voice commands control the device, allowing you to use the GPS, make telephone calls, play music and so on without touching any controls.  Whether all that is a good thing for a rider to be able to do is probably another topic.

Now, the bad.  First is the price.  When it goes on sale in May 2015 it will retail for $1,500.  No doubt that will come down over time but that’s a huge amount of money for something that:

  • Could get stolen
  • Might need to be replaced if you accidentally drop it
  • Would need to be replaced it receives any sort of impact in a crash
  • Would need to at the very least have all the internal lining replaced after 3-5 years to keep it safe to wear

Second is recharging.  The Skully AR-1 will supposedly offer 9 hours battery life though that sounds somewhat optimistic.  Even if it does, it means bringing your helmet inside the house or up the stairs of your apartment to charge alongside your mobile phone and laptop instead of perhaps leaving it in the garage or in your top box.  A detachable HUB wouldn’t be as cumbersome as this.

The other issue is how good is this thing in a crash?  Yes, it will be DOT and ECE approved, but that’s not really a high bar.  There are plenty of helmets that meet such standard that would receive 2 stars on the SHARP website.  What about wind noise?  Visor optics?  Comfort and aerodynamics?  To date, no details have emerged of how much this weighs and that is a huge factor in neck fatigue for motorcycle helmets. Would you really pay triple the price of a quality ARAI or BELL helmet from a company with zero history in manufacturing helmets or any motorcycle safety gear?

NUVIZ RIDE:HUD

Of the three we’ve looked at here, this is the one I’m most interested in and to me shows the most practical promise.  The creators also seem to have a bit of pedigree behind them for such a device.  The NUVIZ company is actually a joint venture between HOLOEYE Photonics and APX Labs.  HOLOEYE designs and develops heads up displays for applications such as air force pilots and more recently, soldiers on the ground.  They’ve been in business since 1998.  APX Labs do equally impressive work but focus more on the software side of things, but again with application to heads up displays.  Check out some of their work here.

Like the Bike-HUD, the Nuviz motorcycle HUD can be used with any full face helmet though in a much more streamlined way.  It attaches with adhesive onto the chin bar, with the transparent display sitting above it and in your field of view.  No ugly and cumbersome brackets to attach.  And unlike the other two options, because it sits out the outside of your visor it would appear allow the rider to better look through the HUD rather than at it.

Features are similar to that of the Skully AR-1, with GPS navigation, weather updates, music and phone calls and two I really like that are telemetry and racing data (i.e. lap times and splits if you’re on a track day).  It has a built in camera so that you can record everything you see too.

There are some areas however that the Skully AR-1 does come on top.  Firstly, the NUVIZ doesn’t feature a rear view camera like the Skully AR-1, with NUVIZ stating that having a streaming video of what was behind you was distracting and ultimately dangerous for riders.  It will also not feature voice recognition, but instead the device will be controlled by a Bluetooth remote.  Battery life is approximately 4 hours, but thankfully you can replace the battery on the go.

Pricing hasn’t been confirmed yet, but it’s expected to be around the $500 mark.  Not cheap for a fancy GPS, but still cheaper than the Skully AR-1 even after including the cost of a brand new helmet.  No release date yet either but they’re currently touring the country with Harley-Davidson as part of the Project Livewire demonstration.

So hopefully within the next 12 months, all three products will be available no doubt more will come to market as the products mature and riders see the benefit of the technology. So who do you think will come out victorious in the battle of the Motorcycle HUD?

 

 

  • Bob

    nice comparison