Rethinking Apple’s Smart Car Project

on October 20, 2020

I suspect many of Apple’s loyal followers have been watching, with interest, Apple’s rumored secret smart car project. If that is you, then you know that the company has a great deal of interest in the automobile’s future, and perhaps, vehicle transportation in general.

Because it is a secret project, there is a lot of speculation about what Apple is doing. Some think Apple is making an actual smart car and should buy Tesla to jump-start their automotive vision.

Others believe they are interested in re-inventing the dashboard and making it smarter. I just got a new car with many bells and whistles, but I am still amazed at how badly the dashboard is designed. The screen is touch, and all the commands must be done through the smart screen.

While it works OK, it is by no means smart and is distracting while driving. When I need to do something simple like changing a radio channel or even changing the screen data, I need things like mileage, water gauges, etc.. I have to take my eyes off the road to see these extra screens.

Apple Car Play makes this dash smarter to a degree with its voice commands, but even then, I still have to take my eyes off the road at times to see the data that comes back to me via Siri commands.

I have another view of what I believe Apple is doing. As you know, Apple has another secret project in the works around Augmented Reality. They have already shown their hand in AR via the iPhone and iPad. They have primed developers with tools to make AR apps for these two platforms.

The third platform that AR will impact Apple will support will be AR/VR goggles or glasses. These glasses are by far the most personal way to deliver AR, and rumors suggest Apple could release their glasses as early as 2021.

While I am excited about AR glasses, I think Apple has a fourth AR platform in the works that is a vital part of their smart car vision.

I have never thought Apple was doing a car but did consider them making the dashboard smarter had some legs. But I believe that Apple’s big smart car project is more of a marriage of their AR and smart cars’ visions.

In this case, the AR visuals will be built into the Windshield and powered by an Apple computer built into the car to deliver AR-based info and content via the Windshield.

Some time ago, discussed with two automotive glass display executives about AR, and one of their “visions” for Windshields was to not only make them smarter but use it to display AR content too.

Imagine if arrows on the windshield display tell you to turn via Apple Maps are visible on your Windshield. Or if any data you need pops up on the Windshield, so you never take your eyes off the road.

I think it is more than plausible and feasible that Apple’s smart car project is more a marriage of their secret smart car and AR project.

There is one other way to deliver AR to automobiles and trucks without it being in the Windshield.

In a recent article in Digital Trends, written by Luke Dormehi, he interviews Jamieson Christmas of Envisics.

According to the article, “Mr. Christmas believes that he’s found the perfect use case for real-life augmented reality holograms. What Envisics has developed is a headset-free, in-car holography system that aims to transform the way we view the road. How? By giving your car an AR overhaul more in line with the kind of HUD technology you’d ordinarily find in a fighter jet or a commercial aircraft worth many millions of dollars.”

The article goes on to quote Mr. Christmas:

“We really are the Retina-grade display of the automotive world,” he said. “Our devices typically work at three to four times the resolution of the human eye. You’re left with an image clarity far beyond that which you would normally experience in a vehicle. Our displays can work to tens of thousands of candelas of brightness, which enables you to see this in the most extreme environments.”

The first-generation version of the technology, projecting a virtual instrument cluster, is available in current Jaguar Land Rovers. The second-gen version, which will go significantly further, is set to appear in GM’s Cadillac Lyriq, currently set for launch in March 2023.”

I encourage you to read the Digital Trends Article and more of Mr. Christmas’s vision as he goes into a lot of detail on how this works.

Envisics approach would be fascinating because it could deliver this to existing cars, which would be a huge market.

While I suspect Apple is watching what Envisics is doing closely, I am more inclined to think that any Apple smart car AR vision would be more focused on being built into vehicles. Of course, this would need auto dealers and Windshield display manufacturers partnerships with whom Apple already has excellent relations today.

Yes, this could be a more futuristic approach, but Apple plays for the long term. That is why I believe Apple’s smart car strategy is very AR focused and designed to change the way intelligent vehicles are created in the future.

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