It’s a great time to be a car tech enthusiast. Disrupters and major manufacturers alike are racing headlong to deploy cars that literally drive themselves. That’s exciting enough, but the best is yet to come.
Thought leaders in the automotive and CE industries have hit on an obvious question. If you free the human driver from the need to watch the road, how else might they occupy their time?
Enter augmented reality. No longer a fad, AR crops up everywhere these days. It appears it will soon become an integral part of the driving experience. Here are 5 real-world examples of how augmented reality and autonomous driving go together like PB and chocolate.
Using AR to Show How the Car Thinks
There’s a marketing challenge with autonomous driving. The public and much of the press still don’t understand how it works. And if they don’t understand how it works, they’re not likely to buy in.
Civil Maps, a startup whose mission is to crowdsource maps for self-driving cars, came up with a unique solution. They figured out how to let people into the brain of an autonomous machine.
The technology uses augmented reality to show a “car’s eye view” while driving. During a ride in one of the specially-equipped cars, a monitor gives the rider a visual representation of sensor data as the car processes it.
The graphics are crude, made up of primary colors and wireframes. It looks like a 90s version of Google Street View. However, it’s quickly apparent just how much is really going on.
With a few colors and some floating boxes, the demo shows how the car sees the condition of the road, street signs, navigational landmarks, and other vehicles. It can even tell if a traffic light is red, green, or yellow.
It’s an incredibly accessible glimpse into a very complex technology.
Testing the Connected Car with MCity
The University of Michigan has its own fascinating spin on augmented reality and autonomous driving. At their MCity lab, researchers use AR to make connected car testing easier, faster, and safer.
For most governments and businesses, safety is the number one concern when it comes to self-driving cars. The technology hasn’t reached mainstream yet, and many consumers are wary of putting their lives in the hands of a machine.
So, testing is paramount. At the same time, it’s not practical to test for every possible occurrence. How does an engineer set up a massive traffic jam on demand? Or an unexpected jaywalker, or a wildlife crossing, or a drunk driver skidding through an intersection?
At MCity, the answer is “with augmented reality”. Self-driving vehicles from Lincoln and Kia make their way around 32 acres of simulated roads. In addition to physical obstacles, the cars coexist with “virtual background traffic”. These are virtual vehicles that appear on the cars’ sensors, indistinguishable from real traffic. If a car “collides” with a virtual vehicle, then it fails the test.
Basically, it’s AR for the car, not for the human inside.
Navdy Has the Augmented Reality Driving Apps, Just Waiting for the Car
As augmented reality developer Navdy points out, heads-up displays (HUDs) aren’t new. Oldsmobile used the technology in Indy pace cars all the way back in 1988.
Navdy’s HUD does a lot more than those old-school devices, however. Physically, it’s not much bigger than a smartphone. It sits on the dash and connects to the user’s phone via Bluetooth.
When the car starts up, though, it delivers an experience like nothing else. Maps and landmarks hover in space before the driver’s eyes, directing them around like something out of a video game. Phone calls and text messages insert themselves unobtrusively in the corners, ready to be accepted or dismissed with the wave of a hand.
All of this is just groundwork for the future, though, and Navdy knows it. The device already comes with an array of augmented reality driving apps. On top of that, they’re furiously working on an even tighter interface with the connected car.
As autonomous driving enters widespread use, they say, the HUD will shift its focus from navigational assistance. Instead, it will have more room to show the rider traffic conditions and potential slowdowns, communications with friends, and even highlight places to eat.
Kind of like having your very own London Black Cab driver. They know everything.
Alibaba Weighs in with WayRay Investment
Electronics import giant Alibaba has their own ambitions in augmented reality and autonomous driving. Earlier this year, they invested $18 million into AR startup WayRay.
The WayRay product line is similar to Navdy’s. Both companies produce automotive AR solutions for navigation and phone alerts. Navdy is a bit further along, as WayRay doesn’t yet have a product on the market.
However, WayRay takes the additional step of partnering directly with car manufacturers. The WayRay Navion is set to be built into a 2018 model from Chinese company SAIC Motor. That’s in addition to the planned dashtop unit, giving WayRay a more diversified line.
WayRay is rightly proud of this. They announced that they’re part of “the world’s first vehicle in production with a holographic AR heads-up display.”
The biggest difference between the two companies is in their idea of how augmented reality and autonomous driving fit together. WayRay’s technology is more advanced in some ways than Navdy. Unlike Navdy, it can deliver full color and a wide viewing angle.
That means WayRay can turn a car’s windshield into a giant screen for movies or games, and their press release makes clear that’s their intent.
A Navdy-equipped car keeps the rider connected to the road, while removing the responsibility of driving. It’s like having a chauffeur.
Meanwhile, a WayRay autonomous vehicle will give the rider a big screen and let them forget they’re in a car at all. The experience should be more like riding in a private bus with an entertainment system.
It will be interesting to see who comes out on top.
Looking to the Future
Businesses of all sizes are betting big on autonomous driving and augmented reality. Meanwhile, thought leaders in the tech industry imagine the hurdles and milestones we might see over the next few years.
On Medium, Nandu Nandkishore sees immense advertising possibilities. The world outside the car window could be overlaid with offers from nearby retailers. Driving to the supermarket, one could select items for purchase en route, and have them ready for pickup on arrival.
A blogger at ART + Marketing foresees AR video games to play while in transit. An “endless runner” like Temple Run could reach new levels of excitement if the course mirrored the actual road in front of the player.
At Design News, an industry publication for interface engineers, Chris Wiltz sees augmented reality as the key to widespread acceptance of self-driving cars. Wiltz believes that showing passengers exactly how the car “thinks” will help buyers take the plunge.
He’s not wrong. Autonomous driving is a game-changing technology. Taking people out of the driver’s seat could bring on a societal shift like few things before. AR is at its heart a means of communication, and it could be just the thing to show the public the benefits of self-driving cars.
And that’s why augmented reality and autonomous driving are such a perfect fit.
How AppReal-VR Can Help?
Augmented reality driving apps are still a wide-open field. Although there is a great deal of investment into research and development, few products have yet to hit the market.
The time is right for big ideas. There’s still time to execute and bring a finished product to a hungry market, and that’s where an outsourced development firm like AppReal-VR can help.
AppReal-VR is highly experienced in the VR/AR sector. Led by industry veteran Yariv Levski, the company attracts the very best designers, developers, and project managers. They’re ready to step in at any stage of your business, from fleshing out the initial idea to putting the final touches on a complete app.