Imagine flying into a new city. The rental car company hands you a pair of smart glasses at the airport. As you step outside the terminal amid the airport traffic chaos, your AR glasses identify the autonomous car driving up to get you with a digital “Your car” sign hovering above it. It knows where you are and vice versa.
Those smart glasses won’t just serve as your tour guide to the city; they’ll also keep you in control of the vehicle.
Smart glasses will enable you to visualize the “cognitive brain” of your autonomous car system while in transit, providing an assurance that all is well en route to your destination. It can display the vehicle’s current speed and road speed limits, place upcoming turn signals in your field of view, alert you to a detour due to road construction, or update your arrival time. The objective is to pre-emptively answer your questions, such as “Why are we slowing down?”, “How much further do we have to go?”, and “Why is our route changing?” You will also be prepared for upcoming turns, stops, and lane changes so there are no unexpected jolts or surprises.
With regular updates regarding your automated transportation during your journey, you can sit back and enjoy the sights. Seeing the city skyline up ahead, you may ask your smart glasses to identify and describe the points of interest along the way such as City Hall, museums, sports and entertainment venues, places of historical interest, etc. You can ask the glasses for a good Italian restaurant, and they will show you the best spots recommended by locals, with menus and contact information to secure a reservation.
AR smart glasses can get fancier still. Cameras positioned outside the car can provide a 360-degree “X-ray vision” of everything around you, giving you the impression you can see through the car’s chassis. Or they can provide a “digital car” up ahead rather than maps leading you to your destination as you see it make lane changes and turns you will soon be making as well.
As you continue looking around you in the heart of the city, you may look at a store passing by and see if there any sales discounts personalized for you, or see the details of a popular tavern offering live music and drink discounts to take your client to that evening.
AR glasses could also place a virtual passenger in your vehicle – an employee located remotely who can appear as if they are sitting next to you as you explain what’s needed from them while you are away from the office. Or maybe it’s your daughter who wants to tell you all about the basketball game she just played.
Once you get to your hotel and out of your car, you may wish to keep the glasses on to digitally check-in and offer-up your baggage while you take a brief tour of the city around you.
You may ask, is all this even possible? The answer is: definitely. The technologies to create this seamless experience are all available and being incorporated into smart glasses, such as the ability to control the device via voice and hand gestures as well as through eye-tracking capabilities and motion sensors. In fact, the scenarios described above are already under development and being trialed by major auto manufacturers, often in conjunction with innovative startups.
For example, Jaguar is working on several UX design concepts to enhance the driving experience. Its Follow-Me Ghost Car Navigation system projects a video game-style “ghost car” on the windshield, which acts as the vehicle to follow on your route, greatly reducing the need to take your eyes off the road to look at a navigation screen. The application could be easily replicated on AR smart glasses as well.
BMW believes its augmented reality driving glasses, currently a research prototype in partnership with AR glasses startup ODG, will enable motorists to see navigation details, speed, and other information overlaid onto a heads-up display. Motorists can connect to their smartphones and receive incoming calls and texts, which they can answer using controls on the steering wheel. The technology will become even more important as semi-autonomous cars hit the market in large numbers.
Startups like Commsignia are working to connect vehicles with each other and the smart city infrastructure, while AImotive is looking to make autonomous driving safe in all weather and driving conditions. Both are investigating the possibility of connecting real-time information to passengers wearing smart glasses.
Sending relevant content from a variety of automotive sensors to AR smart glasses will create a seamless and groundbreaking experience for drivers in self-driving vehicles.
Ákos Maróy is cofounder of Aero Glass, a startup specializing in augmented reality solutions for the aviation and automotive industry.