Optical camouflage turns car’s back seat transparent

The goal of making the car invisible is a great one. Blind spots create significant hazards. For example, just last night, I almost opened my car door into a speeding biker in SF (a headlight on the bike might have helped).

But I think this is one of those applications that may work better with HMDs than projectors. Imagine what happens when you put kids in the back seat. Imagine just trying to keep these seats clean enough or clear enough so the projection works properly.

Sure, it’ll be a few years before HMDs are acceptable enough to drive with them, but the near-term version is something much simpler to prove out. Here’s the idea. [I originally spec’d this out back at Worldesign 20 years ago and always wanted this purely for the thrill. It’s not entirely economical on its own, but it will happen someday, I guarantee.]

Imagine an airplane fitted with a full 360*180 degrees of video capture, more or less like these researchers want to do, such that we can digitize a complete spherical video feed. That’s a few wide angle lenses with sufficient overlaps and computing hardware to stitch in real-time.

Imagine an HMD per (willing) passenger that can index into that video based on where you’re looking. Boom. Your airplane is now invisible. You’re flying free and alone at 35,000 feet. With mixed-reality, we can exclude or occlude your body, your family, and maybe the seats beneath you from the video composition to enhance the realism without ruining the view.

The same trick will work better for the car, once HMDs are legal to drive with. Forget the back seat. Let’s make the whole car invisible, enhance the road while we’re at it, and reduce any other visual noise that might distract you from driving well.

Now, even wearing earphones is presently illegal in most places — their purpose is to distract the listener from the world, not enhance their driving. Practically speaking, it’s hard to hear that on-coming semi to your left when you’re blasting “Highway to Hell.”

See-through HMDs should (and can) no doubt be aware of whether you’re driving or not and limit your activities to only the helpful ones. No “AR Tetris” for you unless the car is on autopilot. The whole point is to actually improve your situational awareness, not to diminish it, so don’t expect this to be a literal view of the world as much as a visually enhanced one. Such a system should be helping you become aware of that same semi, finding obstacles, warning of dangers, highlighting your path and so on. Blade-runner had it half-right. There’s no reason to limit this display to a monitor.

Of course, we may have those self-driving cars before then. Personally, I’m a bigger believer in augmenting people’s abilities instead of putting us in the back seat, so to speak. But we can and will have both, I expect.

Optical camouflage turns car’s back seat transparent. (via gizmag)


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