Augmented Reality's potential in the future connected car explored by Graham Jarvis.

Through the movies most people will have either or seen heard about fighter pilots using heads-up displays in their cockpits to allow them to focus on whatever is around them and in order to fire a missile at an enemy on the ground or in the air. Car manufacturers are now looking at augmented reality (AR) technology as way to achieve this in connected vehicles, arguing that it will allow drivers to focus on the road ahead rather than on what their traditional dashboard tells them. The latter can, after all, be distracting because it requires drivers to momentarily take their eye of the road.

Technology companies and car manufacturers are, therefore, keen to explore how augmented reality can be used to provide drivers with information that goes beyond indicating how many miles per hour a car is travelling, the temperature of the engine and how much fuel is left. A spokesperson from Hyundai Motor Company, for example, expects AR technologies to be applied to a windscreen or to a heads-up display to provide information to the driver. This includes information about traffic conditions, real-time accident alerts, restaurants and tourist attracts within the proximity of the vehicle. With this kind of information drivers will be able to reach their destinations more easily.

Hyundai and BMW approaches

“If Augmented Reality technologies were to be applied, Hyundai Motor Company would opt for a windscreen display rather than an existing heads-up display for real-time, two-way communication between vehicles; and AR content is crucial… a number of considerations are being given to develop these technologies in such a way that does not block the view of the driver,” claims the spokesperson.

BMW is taking another approach. It has developed some prototype AR glasses to “improve and enhance the driving experience in its fleet of Mini vehicles”, writes Al Sacco – managing editor of CIO.com. However, wearing glasses won’t always suit everyone – including people who already wear traditional spectacles to just see every day. They will, nevertheless, offer the same kind of information that a heads-up display or an AR projected onto a windscreen would offer. One difference is that the Mini Augmented Vision glasses can be worn and used outside of the vehicle too, recording the details about specific locations whenever the driver takes to walking on foot. This can enable quicker navigation whenever the driver wishes to drive off to another destination.

Inside the vehicle the glasses are linked up to Mini Connected, which enables the driver to control certain functions with a simple turn of the head. This enables the glasses to act almost like a mirror whenever he needs to park the car as external camera views can show up on the lenses.  Yet, for the moment, eye-tracking and voice control functions have not been integrated. The technology sounds good but, as I mentioned earlier, it won’t be for everyone. Some drivers will simply prefer a windscreen or some other kind of heads-up display which they need not wear.

Panasonic’s view

Fabien Roth, general manager from advanced infotainment marketing at Panasonic says: “Augmented reality will display an image at least 10 metres ahead of the car, meaning that the content will be integrated to make it natural to drive and to monitor information.”  He adds that augmented reality will project images ahead of the car, and much will depend on where the car is located. The connected AR displays will have links to the car itself and to the cloud where much of the information will be come from. This information needs to contextual in the way it’s delivered to the driver.

“Heads-up displays and augmented reality are a new way to interact with the car and there other ways to achieve this too – such as touch screens and tablets,” he comments before adding that until now the technology suffered from some technical limitations that prevented it from being introduced into the connected vehicles. These limitations included a narrow field of vision and, so he argues, the technology still needs further development to widen it. Nevertheless, he believes that “augmented reality add value while you are driving and it is also compatible with driving” and he thinks that “augmented reality is definitely going to be one of the features of autonomous cars”.

Windscreen strategy

With Panasonic’s approach there is no need to wear any special glasses or headgear because images are projected onto the windscreen.  In contrast virtual reality (VR), which is also expected to play a role in autonomous vehicles, requires some form of headgear. For the moment VR isn’t, unlike AR, compatible in his view with connected driving and it is mainly used to design cars. He also argues that heads-up display technologies have existed for 20 years in fighter jets and now are moving things further ahead as an application for connected cars and vehicles.

So is there anything commercial to be gained from using augmented reality in connected cars? Roth thinks the technology certainly offers some commercial potential. He said: “AR can create revenues by offering location-based services and things that are of interest but there needs to be a transaction-based model behind it, and yes this can create offerings.” Much, he says, depends on how well the car knows you and, to achieve this, more development, trials and R&D is needed.

He adds: “The manufacturers will decide what kinds of services they’d like to have in their cars and Panasonic thinks it will be on the market by 2025.” This is when autonomous cars will be available at Level 4 of driving autonomy. In his conclusion he claims that there is a big revolution occurring. “I think there is a big revolution in the car industry that will change the car, the experience and the landscape due to the cloud, connected car, electric cars, e-mobility, and even car racing is changing to electric, etc.”  This will include shared mobility, which AR will enable to happen. So AR can and will certainly be part of the connected and autonomous car proposition in the not-so-distant future.

[Tele.Jarvis.2017.01.06]