How head-up displays make riding a motorcycle safer

BERLIN: The motorcyclist weaves easily through the curves, constantly looking at the road. Every now and then a quick glance at the speedometer or the navigation system, but then immediately the eyes are back on the road.

However, in just one second a motorbike going at 100 kph travels more than 27 metres. A lot can happen in that distance. For that reason, it’s safer if motorcyclists can keep their eyes on the road at all times. That’s where head-up displays (HUDs) come in useful.

HUDs display information such as speed or navigation arrows projected onto a surface such as a windscreen. They’re almost standard in middle and upper class cars today but haven’t yet become established in motorcycles.

But there’s a strong argument that they should be. The Würzburg Institute for Transport Science (WIVW) in Germany has examined the safety benefits of HUDs and found that as soon as a parallel driving task is added, the performance of test subjects wearing data glasses was higher than those without.

2024-05-28 16_03_53-dpa news _ Photos ( Release 2.17.7 )
Eyes on the road is safer

The information displayed in the HUD largely corresponds to that shown on modern cockpit displays or motorcycle navigation systems.

“If you keep your eyes on the road, it’s first and foremost for safety,” says Ruprecht Müller from the Technology Centre of German motoring organisation ADAC.

“A distracting glance at the vehicle’s dashboard is no longer necessary, you can still keep an eye on what’s happening on the road and your eyes remain on the road,” says Matthias Haasper, from the Institute for Two-Wheeler Safety (ifz) in Germany.

This offers advantages if something unexpected happens such as a sudden braking manoeuvre by the driver up ahead.

The HUD models offered for motorcyclists are either worn as glasses under the helmet or else they work as a small visor inserted into the helmet.

Which one you choose depends on personal preferences. “Anyone who's interested should try out the systems with their own helmet,” Haasper says.

Most motorcyclists like uncomplicated and simple solutions, which is why Müller sees the greatest advantages in easy-to-use HUD glasses.

“We see the glasses as the best solution for a HUD. There is space for this in most helmets," he says.

They’re also practical as the data glasses are usually connected to a smartphone and so work independently of the motorcycle. Even people with older motorcycles can therefore make use of this modern technology.

2024-05-28 16_04_31-dpa news _ Photos ( Release 2.17.7 )
Helmet size matters

However, the space available in helmets varies greatly and is often limited so additions or installations can’t exceed a certain size. Larger displays can obstruct the visor’s view.

In addition to different fits and types of helmets, the way helmets are worn also differs. Some motorcyclists wear their helmets low so that the edge of the helmet is close to their eyebrows, which means a HUD won’t fit.

The size of the HUD display is also important. Depending on the size of the HUD, only a small amount of information can be reflected into the motorcyclist's field of vision - which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

"From a security perspective, it makes sense to limit HUD information to what is absolutely necessary. For example, your current speed or navigation instructions," says Haasper.

It's important that the systems can be switched off quickly when the lighting conditions change, says ADAC expert Müller. Because of the small distance between the eyes and the display, it also takes some getting used to focusing on the characters displayed in the HUD.

Müller foresees further advances ahead for motorcycle HUD systems. For example, car-to-X communication would allow warnings about curves, potholes or accidents to be displayed directly in the motorcyclist's field of vision, thus warning of dangers in good time.