BMW's Mini Will Augment Your Vision

Stand aside, Google Glass and Oculus Rift--BMW's giving drivers virtual eyes

2 min read
BMW's Mini Will Augment Your Vision
Photo: BMW

The problem with your car’s heads-up display is that it can only augment the reality that’s straight in front of you—when you look to one side, all you get is the boring kind of reality. BMW proposes to change that with a pair of glasses that Google and Oculus Rift might have imagined. Or already patented.

The prototype system goes on display this week at the Shanghai Auto Show, where it’ll be paired with BMW’s Mini—an interesting choice because it doesn’t cost an arm and leg.

Like standard heads-up displays, the glasses project arrows onto the scenery to tell the driver which way to go. Perhaps even more useful, though, is the ability to look through the car’s pillars and posts, a trick that is evidently performed by fusing data from a number of cameras on the outside of the car. That’s how several other anti-blindspot systems work, like the glass-free solution recently proposed by Jaguar/Range Rover and the “transparent cockpit” described in this feature-length piece in IEEE Spectrum by researchers at Japan’s Keio University. 

Judging from the video, below, it seems that BMW system goes a bit further than those systems by fusing data from cameras with that from other sensors—perhaps radar or sonar—to make it easier for the driver to park.

Because the glasses can be worn away from the car, they can in principle guide the wearer through the street (as in the video, when it warns him that an advertised concert is sold out). Of course, such a system would also be able to throw in a few messages from local advertisers.

It isn’t clear how many of these features are functional now even inside the Mini, not to mention when the wearer has walked away from it. Fast, city-wide WiFi would seem to be needed to connect the wearer to the cloud. Or maybe this vision of augmented-reality stroll is itself an augmentation of reality—a work in progress, even an act of faith.

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Self-Driving Cars Work Better With Smart Roads

Intelligent infrastructure makes autonomous driving safer and less expensive

9 min read
A photograph shows a single car headed toward the viewer on the rightmost lane of a three-lane road that is bounded by grassy parkways, one side of which is planted with trees. In the foreground a black vertical pole is topped by a crossbeam bearing various instruments. 

This test unit, in a suburb of Shanghai, detects and tracks traffic merging from a side road onto a major road, using a camera, a lidar, a radar, a communication unit, and a computer.

Shaoshan Liu

Enormous efforts have been made in the past two decades to create a car that can use sensors and artificial intelligence to model its environment and plot a safe driving path. Yet even today the technology works well only in areas like campuses, which have limited roads to map and minimal traffic to master. It still can’t manage busy, unfamiliar, or unpredictable roads. For now, at least, there is only so much sensory power and intelligence that can go into a car.

To solve this problem, we must turn it around: We must put more of the smarts into the infrastructure—we must make the road smart.

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