The automotive industry is making some pretty large improvements in terms of technology. In the past few years there have been some impressive improvements in vehicle communications—including V2V and V2X systems—as well as in areas like vehicle safety and infotainment systems. As I’ve said before, hopefully all these areas of improvements will help speed up the creation of a self-driving vehicle. Though the was a recent spike in conversation about backup cameras, mostly thanks to a new law that will require all cars to have them, one area of focus over the past few years has actually been the front window. Designers have tried to optimize—to varying degrees of success—the experience of the driver in order to provide the safest and best driving experience. The challenge comes with trying to marry increased safety warnings with an increase of distractions on the road and in the car. It’s great that we have sensors saying the car is drifting or the car in front has stopped, but the increased warnings are only as useful as the display used to convey them.
One increasingly popular idea has been to utilize some sort of augmented reality screen in order to show the driver what’s happening on the road, without distracting flashing or buzzing utilized by some traditional systems. Not to be outdone, Land Rover has released some details about it’s new Transparent Bonnet, which will allow drivers to “see through” the front of the car in order to better “view” tough terrain. Designers placed cameras in the grille of the car, which sends images to the heads up display in front of the driver. The display allows the driver to “see” the terrain that would normally be hidden under the bonnet and engine.
This is a pretty specific pitch to the idea that the buyers of Land Rovers are using the vehicles to do some off-roading, since there isn’t a big advantage to being able to see the terrain on a regular highway. But it actually does help you to see where your front wheels are and how they are positioned if you’re on uneven ground. If you're using the car to do some adventuring, then this could be a great way to see where you're going when attempting to climb a mountain or uneven trail. It could--at the very least--save you a wheel rim and--at the best--it could save the driver from toppling the car.
When I first saw this, I was pretty prepared to brush it off. While I love the idea of a self-driving vehicle—seriously, I can’t say it enough—I hate augmented reality in cars. Technically, I hate augmented reality everywhere, but I think it’s particularly dumb in cars. If I’m going to be the one driving—I seriously can’t wait until that’s not a thing—then I want to be able to see. But then I started to think that for this particular purpose, augmented reality might not be a terrible thing. In this scenario, the technology is being used to provide more information to a driver so she can make better decisions. After all, the Land Rover is a pretty big car. I grew up driving big cars and trucks, including an extended Trailblazer I once destroyed a tire on because I was driving up a hill (on a curving driveway) and hit a fairly large rock I couldn’t see precisely because the huge front end on the car blocked it. It was an expensive fix that probably could have been avoided with a system like this.