No doubt the defense industry is one of the greatest technology incubators the world has ever seen. But does any of that trick fighter-jet stuff ever end up in the cars we drive? The answer is yes. Heads-up displays (HUDs), for one.
During World War I, aircraft engineers got the idea to combine electrical illumination with the then-rudimentary optical reflector sight to help pilots aim planes' machine guns. Pilots would no longer have to align their heads precisely with mechanical sights to make an accurate shot. By the 1950s, such displays had expanded to include complex, radar-guided lead-finding sights as well as basic flight information like altitude, air speed, compass and artificial horizon indicators.
In 1988, General Motors was the first company to install a monochrome HUD in a civilian motor vehicle, adding color in 1998, and then partnered with Raytheon to offer HUD-based infrared night vision in 2000 (it was discontinued in 2004). Other automakers followed. BMW was the first Europan manufacturer to offer an HUD, in 2003.
Both companies appear to be committed to the HUD. In 2010, GM announced it was working on a Tron-like system that gathered data from a bank of sensors and cameras, parsed the info, and projected laser-generated images — outlining a sharp curve on a foggy day, for example, or highlighting a faint obstacle in the dark — onto the surface of the windshield. That system hasn't yet been incorporated into a production car.