Augmented Realities Role In Smart Cars

Over the last few months, I have often written about the idea that AR headsets could be the next big thing in mobile. In a column I wrote on July 16th, I pointed out that I believe Apple, Google and others will create what I call “light headsets” that receive all of its intelligence from a smartphone and the glasses themselves serve as an extension of a smartphone’s display but in a more visually mobile fashion.

I had a meeting this week with some folks from the automobile industry who pointed out that AR delivery via glasses is not the only way AR will get to the mainstream market. They say that there is a lot of thinking going on around the glass windshield also being a display vehicle for AR content and in this case, the AR intelligence comes from the car itself. One person in the meeting even speculated that this could be a big part of Apple’s automotive project in which they would deliver the AR intelligence and apps via some automotive dashboard and then use the smart car’s display to provide the AR content as one drives.

Many are familiar with heads-up displays but imagine if the heads up display becomes AR smart. As one drives around, it not only see’s the road data we see now, but adds other types of info that could enhance the navigation and overall driving experience. In fact, we might have gotten a glimpse of this value-added navigation process when Apple showed a set of AR features in iOS 12 that delivers a new dimension to turn-but-turn walking navigation in their iOS map app.

At CES in January of 2017, Corning had an automotive exhibit in which the windshield had the heads-up display as part of the design. In this case, the windshield was serving as a display screen and made it an integral part of the driving experience. Today, most heads-up displays are via some add-on device, and although some of the more forward-thinking automotive companies are building it into the car itself, most of the features are still tied to navigation and various types of road data and alerts.

Extending AR features from AR Kit apps to a smart windshield has a lot of merit to it, and if you follow Apple’s overall AR strategy, you could see how this could be plausible. Indeed, Apple’s introduction of AR Kit and their push for AR since June of 2017 is essential to their future. Apple CEO Tim Cook has stated on numerous occasions that he is most excited about AR and its impact on Apple over time and I am inclined to believe that AR does not stop with glasses.

However, what is not clear to me at this time is if Apple did aim at the windshield of a car, would the intelligence come from the iPhone in the way the CarPlay uses the iPhone to deliver intelligence to today’s vehicles? Or do they create an iPhone connection built into some add-on device or into a smart dash to provide AR using the windshield as the display?

To be clear, my suggestion that Apple could or would use a car’s windshield is pure speculation on my part. Although given the comments I received from an automotive exec I met this week leads me to believe that I am not the only one thinking Apple may be eyeing a car’s windshield as a way to deliver AR apps tied to their ecosystem of devices and services.

Samsung’s investment in Harmon and Harmon’s investment in Navdy also puts them on a path to do something similar, and Google’s AR Core could be poised to try and get Google’s AR architecture into smart cars and also use a windshield to display AR content.

To date, our research has mostly focused on AR via some form of glasses of mixed reality goggles. But from this point on we need to think a bit broader about how AR could be delivered using a car’s windshield to view AR content needs to be considered going forward.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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