If you’ve ever driven a car in a video game, you’ll almost certainly be familiar with the fact that it’s way easier to avoid running into stuff if you’re using a third person view. That is, viewing the car from outside (slightly above and behind) as opposed to from behind the steering wheel. A third person perspective lets you see not just most of the car itself, but also what’s going on around the car, in areas that would otherwise be blind spots.
A Taiwan company called SPTek has figured out a way to use an array of cameras to generate a 3-D “Around View Monitor” that can show you multiple different views of the outside of your car. Use a top-down view for tight parking spaces, a front view looking backwards for highway lane changes, or a see-through rear view for pulling out into traffic. It’s not a video game, it’s the next step in safety.
SPTek is relying on just four cameras, each with a 190 degree field of view, to cooperatively capture a high resolution 360-degree view of everything that’s going on around your car. A total of 100 megapixels of images are stitched together to form the virtual view that you, the driver, can explore from whatever angle you need to:
We’ve seen a bunch of systems that are similar to this in many ways, including Augmented Vision from BMW/Mini and Jaguar's projector-based transparent car. However, those systems (and systems like them) don’t change the driver’s perspective, they just use sensors to provide additional information to compensate for blind spots created by structural elements of the car.
SPTek’s AVM system, on the other hand, removes the constraints of the car entirely. While you’re perfectly free to use the AVM to eliminate blind spots, having a virtual view of the entire car all at once, from any perspective, seems like it would be far more helpful under many common driving scenarios. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to drive exclusively in third-person mode, but having alternate views on a monitor in the console of your car, or maybe even on a transparent heads-up display, could easily become a faster and safer way of verifying that your next automotive maneuver isn’t a mistake.
The AVM has already been installed on a tour bus, which makes a lot of sense, since driving one of those things anywhere urban has got to be a visibility nightmare. Since the system only uses four relatively inexpensive wide angle cameras and some fancy software, we might have a reasonable chance of seeing it show up in passenger cars in the near future.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.