Their experimental setup uses cameras mounted outside the car to project an image inside the car in the driver’s field of view. Using similar technology to a heads-up display, the image is shown on a reflective screen mounted behind and between the two front seats. When a driver looks back over his shoulder, he sees the “real” image out of the rear view window continued, through augmented reality, right down the seats to the floor.
Innovations like this may be a long way from going into production. But other uses of AR could appear much sooner. For example, the most common use of AR is to overlay the world with directions that are overlayed on the road in front of you. Almost all concepts show some variant of this and, earlier this year, electronics firm Pioneer claimed to introduce the world’s first GPS with AR, that can be installed in any vehicle.
This kind of innovation would be helpful to any driver. But Professor Dey and his team believe it could be especially useful for older people, whose sense of spatial awareness may be reduced. This is especially problematic when they must look down at a navigation system, for example.
“The amount of time being spent not looking out the windshield, and the number of times that occurs on a short drive, can get pretty high,” he explains. “Particularly when you are talking about elder drivers who may have diminished facilities for driving, you want to reduce the amount of time they are looking away.”
To test this theory, he devised a simulator that projects the navigation system across the full width of the screen. The driver sees the real world, but with a map superimposed on top. As turns or streets come up, the map updates like a panning computerised window that is locked to the real world around them.
Although the system is a prototype, it has given Prof Dey and his team clues about how a real system should work. For example, to ensure that one set of distractions is not replaced by another, he believes that drivers should be allowed to personalize a system so that they can receive notifications from the system in ways that feel intuitive to them, such as audio tones, or even by touch, using haptic feedback through the steering wheel and seats.
“We should be using technologies like augmented reality to personalise the driving experience much more so that we are currently.”
The trials have also flagged potential problems. For example, many of the subjects who have tried the system out in Professor Dey’s simulator have reported that it feels like playing a computer game – this detachment from reality is an issue that the engineers know needs to be addressed.
“You don’t want to lessen the impact of making a mistake,” Professor Dey explains.
In addition, and perhaps most importantly, more work needs to be done to work out what is the optimum amount of the windscreen that can be covered with AR graphics, he says.
After all, augmented reality is only useful if the driver is in touch with the reality behind it.