How Augmented Reality Turns Your Car into a Computer (Part 1)

Even if you’ve never heard of “augmented reality” (or AR), you’ve probably still experienced it.

Simply put, it’s the idea of bringing live data about a certain environment or event directly to consumers, using computer-generated images, sounds and graphics – often via the internet.

AR technology has actually been around for a few decades, but was mostly used in high-end areas like healthcare and the military. For example, surgeons can combine AR with other images (like X-rays) and information to get a more comprehensive picture of a patient’s condition. And in the military, AR is used to overlay critical data like terrain, mapping and environmental dangers onto soldiers’ goggles.

But AR is now increasingly common in everyday life, providing information to consumers and enhancing experiences. Smartphone apps, for instance, allow users to overlay a wealth of information about a certain location onto the screen in real-time.

For example, the Spyglass app gives you information on the geographic layout of your current area. And another, called Find Your Car with AR, remembers where you parked your car. (I could have really used this one at the airport recently!)

AR is also used in areas like:

~ Sports: The yellow first-down line that you see during NFL games is considered augmented reality. Same with the advertisements plastered across parts of a field or behind home plate during baseball games.

~ The Workplace: AR is used in video conferencing, touchscreen applications and digital whiteboards.

~ Education: AR is used to complement student learning, as well. The technology overlays up-to-date information, images, video and other multi-media applications to make classroom material more interactive.

~ Tourism: Rather than just bouncing from place to place, AR allows tourists to get real-time information about a landmark while they’re on the go. For instance, an Android app called Wikitude World Browser allows tourists to point their phone at a landmark and the app immediately pulls up information about it.

~ Architecture: You’ve probably seen how architects’ high-level, completed designs are rendered onto a site before the structure is built. That’s AR at work, too.

~ Automobiles and Navigation: AR is also attracting a lot of attention in the auto industry with smart cars and driverless cars. The technology allows manufacturers to compare designs to construction projections to see if a design is viable. Volkswagen (VLKAY) and BMW (BMW) also use AR for bodywork and crash testing.

Other AR applications for automobiles are turning cars completely wireless, giving them the ability to connect to each other and the internet.

The goal is to provide better information for the driver and enhance safety.

But one new AR initiative in the automotive industry seems anything but safe: Turning windshields into giant computer screens!

Stop Fumbling With That Smartphone

As I’m sure you’re aware, the smartphone generation has had quite a damning effect on road safety. Texting while driving is getting out of control!

Could you imagine if the entire windshield was a screen that allowed drivers to check email and browse the web?

Insane, right?

Not so, according to Professor Anind Dey at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Quoted on the BBC, he states: “The biggest way augmented reality can be useful is in supporting safe driving.”

How so? By simply keeping the driver’s eyes on the road, instead of fumbling around with a smartphone.

As Dey says, “The amount of time being spent not looking out the windshield can get pretty high. You want to reduce the amount of time they’re looking away.”

Essentially, these new AR displays leverage (and enhance) the heads-up display (HUD) technology used in fighter jets.

For example, if you’re driving, the technology allows you to get directions, live traffic data and road conditions, watch your speed, track the weather and more. No smartphone or GPS required.

The display will also show landmarks, restaurants, shops and other attractions as you drive. You can even book a hotel room or restaurant reservation.

All while not taking your eyes off the road.

One company – California-based Making Virtual Solid – has already won acclaim for its AR “Virtual Cable” windshield design. Its technology bagged the top prize at last year’s European Satellite Navigation Competition in Munich.

The main benefit? According to Digital Trends – simplicity. The display isn’t swarming with information and data. It’s minimally distracting and works in tandem with other satellite navigation systems. It works day and night. And you don’t need special skills to operate it.

The opportunity isn’t lost on car manufacturers either, though.

In fact, in my next article, I’ll profile a few companies leading the way – and discuss some other remarkable smart car innovations in the pipeline, too.

Ahead of the tape,

Martin Denholm

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Even if you’ve never heard of “augmented reality” (or AR), you’ve probably still experienced it. Simply put, it’s the idea of bringing live data about a certain environment or event directly to consumers, using computer-generated images, sounds and graphics – often via the internet. AR technology has actually been around for a few decades, but...

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

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