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Technology

Autonomous Vehicles May Be AR's First Big Platform

by Sam Chase
A few years ago, augmented reality technology seemed primed to have a major cultural moment.

Hyped up by tech blogs, Google Glass captured the public imagination before it was ever seen by consumers. People envisioned themselves walking around with computerized eyeglasses that projected ratings onto restaurants they passed and traffic reports onto roads they were driving.

For a number of reasons, the reality of Google Glass failed to live up to the hype and was a large disappointment. Users could take photos and videos, but not a whole lot more. The whole thing officially sunk as aggressive users earned the nickname "Glassholes" and it became clear that augmented reality technology wasn't nearly far enough along.

However, Google Glass 2.0 has quietly found success in recent months as a tool for industry. It's not the only example of augmented reality technology breaking through. Last summer, Pokémon Go transcended the normal world of mobile gaming to achieve mass appeal, projecting images of animated creatures onto city streets through the screens of users' phones.

It raised a significant question: Was AR back? Or, rather, was it arriving in earnest for the first time?

The answer is complicated. As CEO Vitaly Ponomarev of automobile navigation company WayRay described in a recent post for VentureBeat, the type of augmented reality represented by Pokémon Go or Google Glass is quite rudimentary compared to what is expected to be the technology's full potential.

"For true AR to hit mass market, the industry needs a rich app and content ecosystem and hero device(s) capable of handling it," Ponomarev wrote. "That hardware is nowhere near ready. Developers rely on the smartphone screen as the main (if not only) means to deliver AR. Wearables are not really an option either, as it's almost impossible to shove the high rendering performance, convenience, and good quality wide-angled picture into a small form factor."

The implication is that larger form factors will be better suited to housing a full-fledged AR system and, as Ponomarev goes on to describe, cars are a natural fit.

The possible functions of AR in a car windshield -- imagine graphics that let you look into the restaurants you're about to pass -- are almost limitless. Navigation systems will be far more intuitive and eliminate the need for users to take their eyes off the road in order to look down at a small phone or in-car nav screen. Traffic information will be provided in real time, giving drivers a clear picture of how to get to their destinations most efficiently.

Once autonomous vehicles are in play, the possibilities expand to things like infotainment. In fact, according to Ponomarev, AR may play a key role in transitioning consumers to life inside a self-driving car.

"A passenger should at any time be aware of what is happening in the car: why it chooses the specific lane, which cars are around, how busy one or another road is, how the route is being calculated," writes Ponomarev. "Augmented reality is a natural way to visualize the decision processes in the car so the passenger feels safer and more comfortable."

Many companies, including WayRay, are already beginning to develop these technologies. So if you were impressed by Pokémon Go, just wait until you see what augmented reality can do in a car. The scope of AR is about to broaden significantly.

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