How augmented reality is changing the way you drive

Heads-up car displays are going virtual to provide more information and entertainment while driving. Augmented reality is ready to fit into your favorite car. Are you ready for an AR driving experience?

BMW recently unveiled the new i Vision Dee concept car, which allows drivers to choose how much augmented reality (AR) they want to see as they hit the road. The person behind the wheel can choose driving information, data from the communication system, an augmented reality project or a fully virtual experience with windows darkening while driving autonomously. The new system is just one of many augmented reality systems that could soon be installed in a car near you.

“The development of the automotive industry has come a long way from simple infotainment systems.” Gregory Thomas, director of the Center for Design Research at the University of Kansas, which studies augmented reality in cars, told Lifewire in an email interview. “It uses many of the same technologies and tweaks them to be more helpful to the driver.”

Future Visions of Automotive Augmented Reality

Standing for ‘Digital Emotional Experience’, the BMW i Vision Dee uses the entire windshield as a display, blends the infotainment system with functions on the dashboard, and throws in augmented reality features.

BMW models use a slider switch to adjust the driver’s desired information. The heads-up display stays off until content is needed.

“With the BMW i Vision Dee, we are showing what is possible when hardware and software come together.” Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of BMW AG, said in his press release. “In this way, we can use the full potential of digitization to transform the car into an intelligent companion. That is the future of automakers and BMW. It is a fusion of true driving pleasure and virtual experience.”

BMW’s new car isn’t the first time the automaker is playing with augmented reality. The likes of Mercedes, Kia, Cadillac, VW and Honda have all integrated AR into their vehicles in some form, said Danny Parks, vice president of technology at mixed reality company Trigger X, in an email interview with Lifewire. He said the current system is an extension of the heads-up display (HUD) that has been available in cars for years.

You don’t have to buy a new car anytime soon to get an AR experience. Car accessories manufacturer Harman recently announced an AR display as an aftermarket gadget. Ready Vision products are a set of augmented reality and HUD hardware and software products designed to enhance driver safety and awareness.

Thomas said what differentiates i Vision Dee from other cars with augmented reality is the number of windows that BMW models can use to display information and make it opaque based on the driver’s preference.

AR Driving
Image Credit: BME

“It’s a little bit scary depending on what they’re projecting. For racing applications it may be more appropriate to have more important information, but for day-to-day driving applications, smaller is better,” he added. “It’s helpful to be able to zoom in for people with poor eyesight.”

Parks was more optimistic about augmented reality for cars, saying that AR in cars “has the potential to reduce distractions and improve safety by providing drivers with information they can use without being distracted on the road.”

AR driving cars may be the future

Parks predicts that augmented reality displays will become more interactive and entertainment-centric in the future.

“It could be possible in the near term if smart displays replace windows, AR glasses or VR headsets (and self-driving vehicles),” he added. “Once passengers and drivers can view digital content unhindered, we will be able to fully connect the physical world with the digital information space.”

Despite the fun and informative potential, Thomas warned that augmented reality systems for cars pose risks.

“Customization for the driver is essential here,” he added. “Although alert messages are important, we are reluctant to include phone and call information that quickly leads to text messages and the like. It’s distracting driving, and the moment you see it, you lose focus on the road.”

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