How Augmented Reality Turns Your Car into a Computer (Part 2)

Last week, I reported on a fast-growing concept known as augmented reality (AR).

To refresh your memory, this technology brings live data and information about a certain environment or event directly to the user – via text, images, sounds, or other graphics.

The technology works by overlaying the relevant data directly onto the user’s screen at the time – be it a smartphone or, as I focused on in Part 1 of my article, car windshields.

This allows drivers to have an array of relevant data overlaid on the windshield – such as speed, directions and traffic/road conditions, as well as being able to execute certain commands.

Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it sounds a bit dangerous for drivers to be watching and interacting with their car window, rather than merely looking through it to drive!

But far from being unsafe, proponents claim that using AR on car windshields is actually safer than the alternative – constantly looking away from the road to mess around on a smartphone, or in-car navigation system.

Make no mistake… safety is a primary concern here. That’s why automakers’ AR technology is designed to be voice- and motion-activated.

For example…

Augmented Autos

Mercedes-Benz has developed in-car AR technology called Dice, which allows drivers to point at objects and pull up information on them. Plus, if you’re going to be late, or get stuck in traffic and need to get in touch with someone, the messaging app will create a relevant note for you, so you don’t have to type it. Just select the relevant one, hit “send” and you’re done.

The company’s cloud-based mBrace system also logs drivers onto the internet via voice commands and a dashboard touchscreen.

As CEO Dieter Zetsche told the Consumer Electronics Show last year, “We’re working on a new generation of vehicles that truly serve as digital companions. They learn your habits, adapt to your choices, predict your moves and interact with your social network.”

But Mercedes isn’t the only automaker to develop AR for cars… far from it.

Ford’s (F) hands-free, voice-activated SYNC technology essentially turns the car into a mobile electronics center, with built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a cloud-based navigation system. Ford also recently opened a new research and innovation facility in Silicon Valley, and is hiring app developers to create apps for SYNC.

As Senior Technical Designer, Venkatesh Prasad, tells CNN: “Cars are becoming platforms to participate in the digital world, just like your tablets can and your phones can. It’s our job to take those computing services people are used to at 0 mph and make them available at 70 mph.”

General Motors’ (GM) “enhanced vision system” uses cameras and sensors inside and outside the car, which overlays information and warns of hazards like children and animals. It even has a facility that lights the edges of the road when the weather is foggy.

In typically high-tech Japanese fashion, Toyota (TM) is taking AR to a new level. CNET reports that the company has a prototype in the works that allows passengers to zoom in on places and objects as the driver passes them.

Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, head of Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz R&D says, “There’s potentially no limit to what could be displayed on the windshield.”

True. However, the key to this technology becoming mainstream isn’t to make driving a white-knuckle ride as you blast along at 80 mph, checking messages and appointments… it’s about making driving more helpful, safer and not overly distracting.

But if it’s good enough for top gun pilots (AR expands upon heads-up display technology used in fighter jets), it should be good enough for drivers, too.

For example, at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Professor Anind Dey has created a prototype of a wide-screen navigation system on a car windshield. Pretty useful stuff.

He tells the BBC: “We should be using technologies like augmented reality to personalize the driving experience much more so than we currently are.”

And it’s most definitely in the pipeline.

I’ll keep you posted on the developments in this growing area.

Ahead of the tape,

Martin Denholm

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Last week, I reported on a fast-growing concept known as augmented reality (AR). To refresh your memory, this technology brings live data and information about a certain environment or event directly to the user – via text, images, sounds, or other graphics. The technology works by overlaying the relevant data directly onto the user’s screen...

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

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