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Until Cars Drive Themselves, Augmented Reality Will Help Us Drive Safely

According to some estimates, self-driving cars could become ubiquitous within 20 years, leaving the more mundane parts of car travel to the car itself. But until then, several nearer-term innovations might make driving safer and more immersive. This is where augmented reality shines.

Augmented reality is a technology that overlays live data (text, images, maps, etc.) and information directly onto a screen — in this case a car’s windshield. Imagine that your windshield is now your dashboard and your route displays as a color-coded roadway to indicate things like oncoming traffic. Honda scientist, Victor Ng-Thow-Hing, is developing just such a system. “Dying is a bad user experience so you have to think carefully and not trivially when you incorporate augmented reality in a car.” His system overlays colored outlines along the edges of the road to make navigating safer, especially in bad weather.

Cell phones are so distracting that they’ve been implicated as a major reason for accidents. Talking on a cell phone causes nearly 25 percent of car accidents. And texting is even more distracting. For every 6 seconds of drive time, a driver sending or receiving a text message spends 4.6 of those seconds with their eyes off the road. So Mercedes-Benz is developing an augmented reality system that projects information that would normally reside on a smartphone onto the windshield, keeping drivers from fumbling for their phone while driving.

For even greater safety, most automobile manufacturers that develop augmented reality systems also incorporate gesture and voice recognition. So, having so much smart technology at your fingertips makes for a much more immersive driving experience.

And as we drive around the city or take the family on a road trip across the country, our automobiles become less about transportation and more about information. Gathering and displaying data on weather, traffic, maps and road conditions as we travel, our cars are at once visual data centers, smart guides, virtual assistants and cell phones. Thoughtfully designed augmented reality graphics add context to our moving landscape, guiding us safely until our cars learn to guide themselves.

What’s next for augmented reality in automobiles and how might it become even more tightly integrated into our driving experience?

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