# How do HUD optics create readable text so close to the eye?

The human eye has a minimum focal length of about maybe 50-80mm. Most Heads Up Displays (HUDs) are much closer to that, so how is the text they display visible without being horribly out of focus?

For example, this goggle HUD says:

RideOn’s display, although positioned right in front of the user’s eye, projects virtual layers and data focused to a distance of >15ft, thus creating an AR experience where graphics appear as if seamlessly integrated onto the real world.

This sounds a little bit pseudosciency, but the fact remains that the HUD has to be able to deal with the eye's long minimum focal length, so how do they do it?

Clarification (from comment below): I understand how optics can be used to make close things appear far away. I guess the real question is how do you do that AND see the real world behind that image? Is it just because the lensed image is only displayed on a relatively sparse grid of pixels, and you can see between them, or does the HUD optics actually incorporate the background image?

• The same way that the crosshairs on a telescopic sight or the focussing circle on a camera are visible. The optics makes a virtual image of it at a greater distance - ideally at infinity. – Martin Beckett Jan 23 '15 at 4:42

They make a virtual image on a plane behind the HUD. A good model system to understand this kind of thing is the aplanatic sphere: Born and Wolf "Principles of Optics"gives a good discussion of this if you can get hold of it.

If not, here's a simple explanation: imagine a lens system that collimates a point source, so that the point source, i.e. the point source lies on the lens's focal plane. Now imagine your HUD image on this plane, and shift this plane every so slightly nearer to the lens than the focal plane. The lens will not quite collimate the light from the point sources: instead it is still slightly divergent and the light from each point source seems to be diverging from a point source a long way further from the lens than the focal plane.

The thin lens equation, with proper heed taken of the meaning of the sign on the results, can be used to explore this concept quantitatively thus:

$$\frac{1}{d_i}+\frac{1}{d_o} = \frac{1}{f}$$

Put $d_o =f-\epsilon$, where $d_o$ is the object's and $\epsilon>0$ is small and positive. You'll see $d_o\approx -\epsilon^{-1}$ is big and negative, meaning a virtual image a long way behind the focal plane.

Edit after Question from OP

I think I'm probably going to need a diagram for this. I understand how optics can be used to make close things appear far away. I guess the real question is how do you do that AND see the real world behind that image? Is it just because the lensed image is only displayed on a relatively sparse grid of pixels, and you can see between them, or does the HUD optics actually incorporate the background image?

There are several ways this can be done. In older systems, a partially silvered mirror is used to add the light field from the imaging array to the incoming view, so that the user can see both lightfields at once, as in my drawing below.

One can also use transparent screens, grounded on LCD or similar technologies and put them just in front of the focal plane of the converging lens in a Galilean telescope. A second Galilean telescope is used to compensate for the gain of the one with the imaging array in it, so that the image through the viewfinder is unmagnified, as in my drawing below.

As an aside, a Galilean telescope is made of a converging lens and a diverging lens such that the focal planes of the two are on top of one another. Thus rays from infinity have the paths as shown in red.

• I think I'm probably going to need a diagram for this. I understand how optics can be used to make close things appear far away. I guess the real question is how do you do that AND see the real world behind that image? Is it just because the lensed image is only displayed on a relatively sparse grid of pixels, and you can see between them, or does the HUD optics actually incorporate the background image? – naught101 Jan 23 '15 at 5:20
• @naught101 See my edits – WetSavannaAnimal Jan 23 '15 at 7:38

When you look at something, what you see is light coming off it. Consider one point. Light spreads in all directions.

If the point is at a medium distance, light arriving near you would look like this.

If the distance was infinitely long, it would look like this.

When light enters your eye, your lens focuses it on your retina. When your eye is relaxed, it is focused at infinity. This means all the light coming from an infinitely distant point will be focused to one point on your retina.

Suppose we have a nearby point, and we put a lens in front of it. We can make it look as if it was infinitely distant.

The idea is much the same when we add more points in the scene. Light from a second distant point comes from a different direction. Your eye focuses it to a different point on your retina.

A lens if front of a nearby scene can make it look distant.