Car drivers stopped wearing goggles almost a century ago. BMW wants to bring them back.
The German automaker's Mini unit is showing off a system that's a throwback in looks and a step forward in technology to give drivers a better all-round view of what's going on outside their car. The Mini Augmented Vision, to be demonstrated this week at the Shanghai auto show, feeds motorists information while their eyes remain fixed on the road.
Using augmented reality, the headset projects warnings, speeds and directions onto the lens in front of the driver's eyes. While that's not much more than an adaption of the increasingly common heads-up display technology already offered in the Mini, the device's more advanced trick is to provide feeds from cameras mounted on the outside of the car.
That means the driver can see a display of blind spots usually obscured by the car's body. So, for example, glancing over to the right displays the image of the area outside the vehicle's passenger side and the curb to make parking easier. The goggles are controlled with buttons on the steering wheel.
BMW and Mini's researchers have teamed up with San Francisco startup Osterhout Design Group and mobile-phone chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. to integrate the eyewear with in-vehicle technology already in use and extend its range.
Goggle users also can put the headset on when they're outside the car and get walking directions to the vehicle -- useful (but maybe not so fashionable) after a concert if you can't remember where you parked. Once in the car the device automatically links with the vehicle and starts supplying driver-essential information such as directions and warnings.
If someone texts while you're driving, a small warning appears onscreen and gives you the option of having the car read the message aloud.
BMW said the system is designed to minimize distractions and help a driver stay focused on the road. In any technical glitch, emergency or battery failure, the goggles clear the driver's view. The company has no specific plans to commercialize the technology and hasn't yet decided whether it would offer the headsets itself or enable headsets made by others to link with its in-car technology.
It chose a retro design for the headset as befitting Mini's quirky image. Google Glass and other eyewear technology hasn't taken off because it failed as a fashion item and lacked a clear use. BMW and Qualcomm said their augmented vision goggles provide a specific purpose and won't attract too much unwanted attention.