While HUDs may seem like something you'll find only in fighter jets or the movies, they are actually creeping into everyday life. For instance, HUDs are now installed as standard equipment in many cars displaying speed, distance, and messages onto the windshield. Drivers don't need to move their head up or down to read the text; they can keep looking straight ahead.
If your car isn't equipped with a HUD, you can use your smart phone, download a HUD app, place the phone on the dashboard, and reflect an inverted readout onto the windshield. And you can purchase HUD navigation systems (such as the unit shown below from Garmin).
There's a new type of HUD that's attracting lots of attention: Google Glass. Glass isn't the only product of its type on the market (there are dozens), but it attracts the most publicity. These wearable technology products display text in a tiny HUD in a pair of lens-less spectacles. The text displayed depends on the application; it could be the current time, an appointment, alerts... but it could also be procedural information, checklists, or product descriptions.
What does HUD technology have to do with technical communication? HUDs will provide innovative new ways to deliver technical information. For instance, Virgin Atlantic is currently testing Google Glass at Heathrow Airport. According to CNN, "The airline is conducting a six-week experiment with the wearable technology for passengers in its Upper Class Lounge at London. With data flashing before their eyes, staff can update customers on their latest flight information, as well as weather and events at their destination."
If the Virgin Atlantic tests prove successful, the opportunities for technical communicators are endless. Beyond simply documenting HUD devices and applications, technical documentation and eLearning content could actually be displayed on a HUD. There will be challenges of course. Writers looking to create content for HUDs will need to embrace writing techniques such as minimalism and separation of content and form. Nevertheless, it will be possible for technical communicators to one day deliver to this new media... a layer above reality.