Friday, February 6, 2015

BMW sees future through X-ray specs

BMW has found a solution to the perils of parallel parking that could have been lifted from a 1950s joke shop: X-ray specs.

The Germany-based carmaker is joining the ranks of Google and Microsoft by launching a pair of augmented reality glasses that will allow drivers to see “through” the car when parking.
BMW has found a solution to the perils of parallel parking that could have been lifted from a 1950s joke shop: X-ray specs.

The glasses are just one example of the technology being worked on at the Silicon Valley outposts of the big automakers and parts suppliers as they seek to maintain their reputation for innovation in the age of the connected car.

Established motor industry operators are engaged in a growing battle with Google and other new entrants from the tech sector to maintain ownership of the brains that will power the car of the future while luring in younger consumers attracted by the latest consumer devices.

BMW’s goggles communicate with the vehicle so that when the driver engages reverse and glances over his or her shoulder, the side of the car in effect “disappears”, with exterior cameras projecting a view of other vehicles, bollards and the kerb on to the lenses.

The German carmaker has been developing the glasses at its research and development laboratory in the heart of Silicon Valley, according to three people familiar with the company’s plans, and will demonstrate the technology at the Shanghai motor show in April.

Details of the new product are limited, but the goggles are expected to include real-time information from the car such as speed. They are also expected to offer car-sharing information and public transport updates, suggesting that they are intended to be worn outside the car as well.

“It’s about being a mobility provider — it’s not just the car,” said one of the people.

Augmented reality — where users see digital graphics overlaid on to the real world — is viewed as the next frontier in tech.

While Google sent its Glass project back to the drawing board, Microsoft claims to have ushered in the era of “holographic computing” with its HoloLens goggles, which offer a world akin to the visions of Star Trek and Minority Report.

The technology is also seen as a way of introducing data into the car without compromising drivers’ focus on the road. Skully Systems, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, produces smart motorcycle helmets, while Continental, the German parts supplier, is developing an augmented reality windscreen system that will be ready for production in 2017.