Helmet-mounted Information Display Systems
August 2003 When Ralf Schumacher took third in the Hungarian F1 GP, it was an important event - it was the first time that a heads-up display had been used in a Grand Prix and gave great validity to the coming wave of information visualisation systems. Advanced helmet mounted systems such as this have been in use by fighter aircraft for decades, with the Boeing-developed Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System the most advanced. The JHMCS displays flight information on the inside of helmet visors, keeping the data in sitght at all times. It also allows aiming and air-to-ground weapons with little more effort than looking at a target and pressing a switch. Schumacher's display works slightly differently but it means racing drivers can register visual information while still paying attention to their driving, enhancing safety and ultimately improving communications between driver and pit.Ralf Schumacher will use the BMW system throughout the 2003 season. The 6x8 mm head-up display system stores messages and images in a data set which can be called up from the pits and displayed to the driver via a "transparent" image projected through the visor on a level with the front of the car. The driver then registers the information while maintaining full attention on the track."With this device, BMW has taken a further important step forward on the safety front," says Ralf Schumacher of the BMW WiliamsF1 Team. The display system was devised by the BMW Technology Office based in Silicon Valley's Palo Alto in collaboration with a local partner company specializing in electronics and with the German helmet manufacturer Schuberth.The BMW mini head-up display has a high-resolution true colour display based on active matrix liquid crystal display (AMLCD) technology. The key function of the display is found in a unique lens element known as a free form prism (FFP). Thus the driver is able to see the picture pin sharp.The mini head-up display enables the projection of any number of optical messages into the driver's direct field of vision. For Formula One testing, the miniature display was integrated into the chin cup of a modified Schuberth RF-1 racing helmet. Additional walls and padding were used in accordance with guidelines from the SNELL Foundation (the helmet safety organization). The system is located in the peripheral vision field of the driver's dominant eye. Thanks to the unique design of the system, the information is projected into the driver's field of vision without his having to actually look at the display. "The eye very quickly gets used to this small spot and ignores it as if it were a tiny insect on the windscreen," explains J'rgen Br'gl, project engineer at the BMW office in Palo Alto.With the help of the miniature display, the F1 driver is fed a wide range of information on the race and on safety precautions straight from the pits. It means the driver is permanently informed of his position in the race, can receive instructions from the pits during the race and training, such as "go faster", "come into the box" or "oil in turn 2", and is kept up to date on flag signals and emergency procedures by means of messages such as "pit traffic" or "oil pump". Moreover, it allows the instructor in the pits to send the driver an SMS through bi-directional telemetry. This information is relayed straight to the display. Similarly, information on the engine management (e.g. "oil pressure low") can be sent directly to the driver without having to go through the pits. It all helps to save precious time. BMW is looking to rapidly transfer the head-up-display technology from the Formula 1 into series production, utilisingf the obvious benefits of the system for connecting drivers with their vehicles and with surrounding traffic to increase safety, efficiency and driving comfort.