Amazon's Alexa is coming to your car

Heads up displays turn your windshield into Google Glass and your car into a conversation companion.


Arnab Raychaudhuri started with a simple question, one that reveals a lot about the age we live in:

"Wouldn't it be awesome to turn your house to party mode on your way back from work -- setting your Sonos to your favorite track, Nest to 70 degrees, and lighting to that cool blue?"

He answered himself: of course it would. Then he left his Pentagon job and spent two years developing a voice-activated heads up display (HUD) for vehicles.

True HUDs are designed to give drivers information with minimal distraction by keeping their eyes on the road. The technology is an attempt to both concede to and remedy the dangerous tendency to look at your smartphone or navigation unit. HUD units project a transparent augmented reality display in front of the driver. It's like Google Glass without the glasses.

It's also not at all clear that that's a safe remedy, and there are some early indications that it really isn't. A University of Toronto report last summer found that augmented reality HUDs were actually a threat to safety.

"Drivers need to divide their attention to deal with this added visual information," said professor Ian Spence, who investigated what happens when two sources of information are present in the same visual field. "Not only will drivers have to concentrate on what's happening on the road around them as they've always done, they'll also have to attend to whatever warning pops up on the windshield in front of them."

HUD advocates argue that our attention is already divided and that the AR projections at least keep drivers' eyes forward.

It's a question that's likely to get sorted out in further studies and messy lawsuits. Either way the category is heating up. Car manufacturers are starting to offer limited HUD technology on higher end cars and companies like Garmin and startup Navdy are rolling out aftermarket add-ons that work with any vehicle.


Arnab Raychaudhuri's San Francisco startup HeadsUP! is debuting a purely voice-controlled solution, and the voice will be familiar to fans of Amazon's Echo. The company is working with Amazon and using Alexa Voice Services to integrate HeadsUP! with Amazon's connected ecosystem.

That means a driver can send messages, get directions or ask HeadsUP! to set their living room temperature on their way home without touching their smartphone.

Just like the prophecy foretold.

"The human machine interaction is changing from artificially imparted intelligence to a more naturally intuitive process," explains Arnab.

What he means is that users can interact with the unit by simply talking to it in natural language and without having to remember specific commands. Siri is another example.

HeadsUP! launched its pre-order campaign last week. The HeadsUP! display is selling at an early-bird price of $299.99. It runs a custom version of Android Marshmallow 6.0 and uses a high powered projector, ambient light sensors, and patented optical design to keep images sharp, supposedly even in direct sunlight.