Intelligent and multifunctional displays are conquering the dashboard and the rear of cars, while the era of analogue displays, buttons and wheels is coming to an end. Lately, augmented, virtual and extended reality solutions push the cockpit to new limits.
US and Japanese car manufacturers first equipped their vehicles with augmented reality technology at the end of the 1980s, thus adding more information to the driver’s field of vision. The image for the driver is created on a display, illuminated by a light source, andthenprojected onto the windshield using mirrors. In 2005 BMW became the first German auto maker to introduce these head-up displays (HUD) in its series models. In 2017, Konica Minolta unveiled the world's first three-dimensional HUD. It can present informationat various virtual distances, depending on the vehicle’s speed. The Swiss startup WayRay is developing universal head-up displays for use in all vehicle types irrespective of their interior design. In the future, information on the windshield will also be available to the front passenger. New features will be the familiar night vision assistant as a projection, and instead of turning arrows a virtual vehicle image that is integrated seamlessly into the driver’s view of the current traffic situation. It guides drivers reliably to their destination. In addition there are screens in the cockpits of the next generation as far as the eye can see. The Chinese electric car manufacturer Byton recently caused a sensation with a discreetly curved display that fills almost the entire cockpit from door to door with a diagonal of 48 inches. Amazon's language assistant Alexa and innovative gesture control are additional features. A concept car with the XXL screen will be shown at the IAA 2019.
BMW is already exploring new paths and bringing augmented reality into the vehicle interior. It is currently working on the HoloActive Touch – holographic controls that appear to float just above the central console and are gesture-controlled. So will HUDs soon be obsolete? With the advent of AR and VR, it is certain that classical vehicle components will gradually be either digitized or completely replaced. Engineers at Jaguar, for example, have developed the revolutionary ClearSight Smart View, a new rear-view mirror. It turns into a screen at the flick of a switch. This gives the driver an unimpaired view of everything that is located behind the vehicle – even if the line of sight is blocked by passengers on the rear seat or by luggage. And the Audi e-tron is the first car with virtual exterior mirrors. The side-view mirrors have been replaced with two aerodynamic cameras. They transmit live images to two OLED displays in the vehicle’s interior, between the instrument panel and the door. According to the supplier Ficosa, the field of view appears somewhat wider anddoesn’t have any blind spots.
In the face of these advancing technologies,the questionis whenwe will see the first 360° cockpits. Several years ago, the Virtual Urban Windscreen from Jaguar already gave us a foretaste of a virtual all-round view: external cameras constantly supply live images of the vehicle’s surroundings and use high-resolution screens to make the A, B and C pillars transparent. If drivers start turning, look over their shoulder during overtaking, or drive up to an intersection – real-time images are shown on the pillars of the relevant side of the vehicle to provide an unhindered view. However, the technology realizes its full potential when it is connected to a cloud or using car-to-X communication. Additional informationcan be displayed about local attractions, shops, hotels or restaurants, free spaces in parking lots or the cheapest gas station.At the last CES Nissan presented its Invisible-to-Visible technology that takes up many of these approaches. But the system is able to do more than detect the vehicle’s immediate environment. It can also use sensors and car-to-X communication to create a precise 3D model of what is located behind a building or just around the next bend – for example other vehicles or human beings. The technology can also connect drivers and passengers with family, friends or colleagues who then appear as three-dimensional, augmented-reality avatars and keep the users company.
For the latest vehicle generations, it is the entertainment aspect of VR that is attractive. In the future, the car's rear passengers will use VR glasses to experience films, video games and interactive content more realistically. The headset is continuously fed with data about the vehicle’s motion so the virtual environment is adapted to the car’s position, speed, steering, acceleration and braking. The name given to this is extended reality (XR), which is a general term for virtual reality and augmented reality created by adding the extra data dimension. If the car accelerates, the situation in the game or stream also speeds up. Audi has co-founded the startup Holoride to develop this technology. "The haptic feedback of the real ride makes the virtual experience feel incredibly realistic and more intense than ever before", says Nils Wollny, CEO of Holoride and speakter at the IAA Conference 2019. One positive side-effect is that synchronization with the vehicle’s motion simultaneously reduces the risk of travel sickness. An open platform should also enable other OEMs and content-producers to offer interactive XR formats in the future. In just a few years, the innovation should be going into series production – for more time spent living instead of time in transit.
(Stagephoto © Audi)
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