Using the right tool for the right job is a lesson everyone is taught at some point in their professional careers. But there are times even the most basic tool used in a certain way for a specific condition makes it invaluable. The tool I am writing about is GPS, basic ‘tech’ that has been around for years now as either a standalone product or even as just an app for a smartphone or tablet. But a new twist to this old tool is to use is it as a Heads Up Display (HUD) during snow operations.
As I said, GPS as a standalone product or more often now as an app on a Smartphone or tablet, has been an important tool most snow fleets have used for years. The new twist on this old tool is converting the systems to display mapping and directional information onto the lower portion of a vehicle’s windshield. For everyone who has performed snow operations at night, in the dark, during low visibility from a heavy snow, you are always looking for that additional help to operate safely and efficiently. The HUD display systems are that additional help to enhance an older tool.
So how do the HUD systems work differently from a normal GPS? The HUD systems do not display what you would typically see on your GPS unit where you have your position located on a moving street map. The regular map screens would not have enough contrast to be reflected up onto a windshield. Most of the GPS systems display more basic information while in HUD mode. The screen during HUD mode typically has an all black background with just a directional turning arrow icon along with basic numeric information showing current speed, compass heading, and distances to upcoming turns or way points. Along with the sound instructions that work identically to the standard GPS mode, this basic display system works well.
What I feel is the best advantage of this Heads Up Display mode is how all the information is displayed onto the windshield so a driver can quickly see through the display to keep their visual focus outside the vehicle. Even a safe driver that has a regular GPS unit placed above their dashboard will need to take his focus from outside the vehicle to inside to read any visual information from the unit. By being able to keep a driver’s visual focus consistently looking through the windshield, the driver can use the GPS information they need but can also keep their ‘Heads Up’ and greatly improving vehicle safety. This is where a HUD system is a major improvement over typical GPS units during snow operations, when road conditions are at their worst and sight visibilities are down to only a few hundred feet, keeping focused on the road ahead is crucial to being safe.
A few apps also have a secondary HUD view that provides the lane outline of the road you are traveling on. Instead of arrows and numeric directions this ‘outline’ mode indicates upcoming turns, bends, and straight always by displaying the outline of your upcoming road. During normal driving conditions this would be beneficial for driving roads with a lot of turns or winding roads. But during snow operations when visibility becomes greatly reduced and snow cover obscures distinguishing where streets and highways start or stop, this outline mode will significantly help to stay on the road. For an example of how well this works, follow this link to a video of a rally car driving through a winding road course. Be sure to see the video around the 2:20 mark, the car’s windshield becomes covered in mud but the car doesn’t slow down!
A few of the GPS apps that also have the HUD mode available include Sygic and HUDWAY. The apps will still work without relying on an internet connections via cellular service as long as that device has GPS capability, they just need a little more memory space to download properly compared to typical apps.. This is helpful as well to load the apps onto tablets even if they do not have data connections through the cellular service. I also like this because the larger screens of a tablet (either 7” or 10” units) will produce a larger, more vibrant display and will keeps the driver’s smartphone available for hands free communications. Garmin has also started producing a standalone GPS unit that has HUD capability. The Garmin unit relies on an additional screen that is mounted on the windshield directly above the base unit. This may restrict the flexibility of moving the unit around in the vehicle if needed.
Is there any additional hardware needed? Besides having an available smartphone or tablet to run the apps, the most important items to have are the phone/tablet holders inside the vehicle. Since the phone or tablets are meant to lay flat below the windshield to pick up the screen reflection in the windshield, there are two methods of putting the phones or tablets in the optimum position. The easiest holder to use is just a non-slip pad. These are just small soft rubber pad that are placed on the dashboard of a vehicle and then a smartphone or tablet is placed on top of them. The pads seem to work better for smartphones, for tablets there are specific non slip sleeves that fit on the back of the tablets that hold them in place better. If you want to get a fixed phone or tablet holder, make sure to get one that is mounted on top or near the top of a dashboard. The holder should also be able to be rotated between a typical vertical hold position and a flat horizontal position that has the screen reflecting up to the windshield.