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Hands on: Navdy car dashboard projector

Consider yourself an easily distracted driver? Then the Navdy head-up display, a handy Bluetooth device that keeps your eyes on the road, may intrigue you.

It only takes a glance at distracted driving statistics to drive home the fact that smartphones were not designed for the car. The apps that run on these devices tempt drivers to take their eyes off the road, a dangerous act even for just five seconds.

Enter the $500 Navdy head-up display (HUD), a compact, dash-mounted unit that features a high-quality projection display paired with voice and gesture control. The intuitive combination helps drivers stay focused on the road while still being able to utilize essential navigation and communication apps.

Down to headquarters

To get a first look at the Navdy, I headed down to the company’s headquarters, a startup-esque warehouse space located (appropriately) above an auto garage in San Francisco’s Mission District, where I spoke with Navdy co-founder and CEO Doug Simpson. When I asked what spurred the creation of the device, I was awarded a frank response. “Honestly, the idea came from one too many ‘oh s***’ moments in the car,” said Simpson. “Touchscreens are really distracting and stressful for drivers.”

Navdy was designed directly in line with distracted driving studies from the likes of Virginia Tech. “We integrated all of the factors from the studies in order to eliminate distractions,” noted Simpson.

The Navdy device I checked out was still in prototype form. It was functional enough, however, for me to experience the display, which projects onto a transparent screen an image that appears to be floating roughly six feet away. The display uses the same technology used by airline pilots to stay focused on the runway during landing.

Unfortunately, the voice and gesture controls weren’t yet working on the model I saw, but this video from Navdy does make the user interface look pretty neat and easy to use. Texts can be read and calls answered (or ignored) with either simple audio commands or a swipe of the hand thanks to integrated wide-angle sensors.

Navdy is so small and simple to set up, it can easily be moved between cars.

Navdy is compatible with both Android and iOS via Bluetooth, and it will be able to run a variety of apps at launch. It connects with Google Maps for turn-by-turn directions, as well as music apps such as Pandora, Spotify, iTunes and Google Play Music. Additionally, Navdy can read communications from text or social media aloud, and allow you to answer or decline calls. Handily, there will also be parental controls for the communication functionality to further limit distractions for teens.

Additional features at launch include Navdy’s ability to connect to your car’s computer and display speed, rpm, miles to empty, and other useful stats – something car aficionados are sure to appreciate. In the future, Navdy will add further compatibilities, such as the ability to read emails (sadly not available at launch), or let you know when you need to stop for gas and automatically add it to your navigation.

Of course, one of the most attractive things about Navdy is that you don’t have to buy a new car to take advantage of HUD technology. And since it’s so small and simple to set up, it can easily be moved between cars. Plus, the fact that it has its own integrated Bluetooth makes it a handy accessory for those with older cars.

I recently gave up a later model vehicle with integrated Bluetooth for a less expensive older vehicle. To my dismay, I find Bluetooth one of the few features I really miss. With the Navdy, though, I could get that hands-free functionality with the extra cool factor of the head-up display. That definitely makes this device an attractive option.

Currently, Navdy is running a pre-order campaign in an attempt to raise $60,000 from backers. Those who jump on the bandwagon early will be able to purchase a unit for $300, a significant discount on the $500 list price. Backers and the general masses alike can expect to get their hands on the actual devices in early 2015.

Highs

  • Compact device that works in any vehicle
  • High quality projection
  • Intuitive user interface

Lows

  • Dash-mounted device may not be legal in some states
  • Will not read emails aloud at launch