Jaguar Land Rover is developing a system to allow a driver to see right through pillars and posts. By thus eliminating blind spots, it could be among the first augmented-reality techniques to go beyond entertaining people and actually save their lives.
Cameras pointing outside the car feed imagery to screens embedded in the posts and pillars, providing what the company calls a 360-degree view. By coupling these screens with images from a projector that casts images onto the windshield, the system can incorporate various driving aides. One example is a “ghost car” that appears in front of the car, so that the driver can follow it. The company argues that this is a much more intuitive way of providing navigation advice than the current method, in which a robotic voice intones, “left turn in five seconds,” or whatever.
Screens are activated only when they have important visual information to convey. Notice that the back pillars of the car become transparent only when the driver turns his head or signals that he’s about to make a turn:
The embedded screens make only parts of the car’s body disappear, unlike a more ambitious program developed by Susumu Tachi and his colleagues at Japan's Keio University. They describe their ideain a recent issue of IEEE Spectrum; the effect is to make doors, roofs, back seats—and even the people sitting there—seem to fall away. The Tachi system uses projectors and mirrors to throw images onto surfaces bearing retroreflective screens that can reflect even oblique rays of light right back along the path they came in on. The Jaguar Land Rover system has the countervailing advantage of requiring neither screens nor mirrors.
Jaguar Land Rover says in its press release that the system will reach its full potential when it can be linked to information beamed in from the road, traffic signs, and other infrastructure, so drivers will have it at their fingertips just when they need it.
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.