This article is part of the special topic "Future Mobility".
AR Augmented reality windscreens will offer drivers a more engaged driving experience
At a time when OEMs are working to make driving safer, augmented reality windscreens created an interactive link between the driver, the car mechanics and the conditions on the road. But will they prove to be a driver distraction or offer a safer alternative to head down options such as smartphones?
We've been hearing about the potential of augmented reality (AR) for quite a few years, yet the real use cases have been largely limited to gaming (including the infamous Pokemon Go), and hands-free industrial applications such as training and assembly lines.
But a company from Switzerland is set to change that. Hailing from Zurich, WayRay has created a suite holographic augmented reality displays that turn the entire car windshield into a dynamic space without the need for heavy headgear or glasses. WayRay has been working on augmented reality since 2012 and recently received $80mn series C funding in a round lead by Porsche and joined by Hyundai Motor and other investors.
A holographic overlay in the driver's line of sight (also known as a head up display) can reduce the need for a driver to look down or at their phone, reducing the risk of accidents. The windscreen can display real-time navigation information and visual tools for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). It can share moving objects and related hazard alerts and emergency notifications.
WayRay has several product offerings including the Embedded Holographic AR Display, a built-in solution for car manufacturers, suitable for regular and self-driving cars; an augmented reality development framework that lets developers create AR apps for cars and Navion, the first holographic AR navigation system for cars—an aftermarket product.
It's expected that future iterations will incorporate V2X (Vehicle to Everything) technology, and will share information gleaned from transport and smart city applications such as traffic control, weather, and road alerts. It's been suggested that the windscreen could be overlayed with location-specific advertising but it's likely to be a later use case following certainty as to the impact on driver focus. The company is also developing new holographic materials to embed in passenger side windows. Hyundai is planning to implement the windshields into production vehicles in the next couple of years.
Many OEMs show strong interest in windshield displays
At last year's Tokyo Motor Show, Mitsubishi unveiled an electric SUV concept car called MI-TECH CONCEPT. It includes an AR windshield to aid in driving in poor visibility.
There’s also a number of startups creating retrofitting AR options. In France, Eye-Lights have created a product that connects to your car via the cigarette lighter for under $500USD and is compatible with all cars and smartphones. A head up display can display your favorite GPS app, music and calls on your windshield. These can be controlled via gesture control through an IR motion sensor.
In 2018, Apple published a European patent for an augmented windscreen. While Apple has had a challenging time with autonomous vehicles culminating in layoffs from the Project Titan team, their interest in both hardware and integration of Apple tech persists. The patent includes a feature called Panicky Occupant Detection that would monitor drivers' physiological state by observing their eye movement and blink rate, body posture, temperature, heart rate, and body gestures. The HUD would then adjust the display windscreen to calm the driver.
Another interesting feature is FaceTime between occupants of different vehicles. The patent notes:
"In some embodiments, an augmented reality display system included in a vehicle enables visual communication between an occupant of the vehicle and a remotely located user, including an occupant of a separate vehicle."
It will be interesting to see how this evolves and how Apple links connected cars to their existing suite of products.
Greater consumer adoption will be needed to really determine the safety of AR windshields
The safety of augmented reality windscreens is unclear. They could benefit those at diverse ends of the spectrum in driving—driver education for learner drivers, and car monitoring for drivers during car racing. But for the average driver, the issue of driver distraction will require testing and education via OEMs before drivers feel comfortable engaging with the technology. It's also likely the safety issues will remain untested in any real sense until driver distraction is blamed for a car accident.
It's tempting to imagine the screens mimicking the mechanics of 3D smartphone maps with offerings such as real-time geolocated advertising and retail offers but we'll be some way off until the safety of these distractions, as well as their desirability by car drivers, is clear. However, we can expect to see AR windshields rolled out to consumers in the next couple of years, creating an interesting driver experience.