Fasten your seatbelts  - digital transformation is revolutionising the automotive industry. Established brands that have been manufacturing vehicles for well over a century are shifting their value proposition and position in the marketplace to meet consumer and economic demands.

The race to develop drive-less vehicles is already well underway between Google, Amazon, Tesla and Baidu. And whilst the idea of autonomous vehicles in the future is exciting, it also frightens many consumers. Integrating elements of augmented reality in vehicles may be a tactic to bridge this gap and gradually encourage consumers to trust in the new technology impacting their vehicles. In this article, we’ll take a look at five new ways this technology is being incorporated.

SAFETY FIRST

Car manufacturers are praising augmented reality for increasing safety and road awareness. Panasonic and Harman, a Samsung company, are in the testing phase of manufacturing a similar concept for a central heads-up display, which will show vehicle information at the base of the windshield within the driver's view through a DigiLens. Colour-coded imagery is said to highlight potential hazards, such as pedestrians on the side of the road or a red graphic around a car ahead that is breaking. This information is gathered through a series of cameras and sensors strategically placed throughout the vehicle and feeding back to the computer platform which has the functionality to displays a complete 360-degree-top-down image. The underlying concept for this central display is to replace mirrors and stop drivers from looking away from the road and avoid distractions.

A NEW WORKFORCE

Car manufacturing is a complex process that’s made simpler through digitalisation with improved quality and efficiency. Vehicle assembly lines are now being managed by a mix of robots and humans, and many enterprises are exploring wearable technologies in head-mounted devices and smart-glasses. The technology is integrated with elements of augmented reality and internet of things to virtually projects overlays over real objects, providing all the necessary data and instructions a technician or engineer needs to make an assessment or perform a task. With the increased productivity in all stages of car manufacturing, from the initial visualisation of new models through to repair, manufacturers all over the world are making smarter decisions.

EMPOWERING DRIVERS 

In a similar way to how augmented reality is assisting automotive workers, it also informs customers of contextual information in a more in-depth and intuitive way when compared to online or video. Interactive x-ray tools for vehicles are being developed to replace car manuals and give updates in real-time to increase customer understanding of the various parts and inner workings of their vehicle, which is subsequently enhancing their connection to their cars. Creating this bond is considered a top priority in marketing approaches by automotive companies targeting the next generation, as trends show they’re moving away from car ownership in favour of car usership with the uprise of MaaS (Mobility-as-a-Service) and on-demand services.

VIRTUAL TEST DRIVE 

Augmented reality and 3D product visualisation act as the ‘try before you buy’ for the digital age and provides a unique way for car dealerships to showcase their models. AR is rapidly appearing in car shows and other events, and last year Jaguar Land Rover was the first brand to enlist AR technology in a banner ad. People around the world were able to experience the inside of the car in the palms of their hands, just from using their smartphone camera, without needing to download a specific app. Following the release of the new ad, a spokesperson for Jaguar Land Rover said, in a press release, that the reason for the futuristic ad asset was to demonstrate the brand’s commitment to cutting-edge technology, acting as a means for customers to get a sense the vehicle in a way that goes beyond a static photo.

CAR-TO-CAR COMMUNICATION

Road rage and aggressive driving is an increasing epidemic amongst drivers, known to be the cause of injuring or killing 1500 people in America each year, and augmented reality is being used to combat the issue. An augmented reality app is being developed by PHD student Chao Wang and his colleagues at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. The prototype, known as Social Car, lets other drivers know when you’re in a hurry by indicating signals such as ‘going to the hospital’ or ‘rushing to the hospital’ to encourages other drivers to dissipate anger and demonstrate precaution. It recognises cars on the road using a special periscope lens attachment placed on a driver’s smartphone’s camera, and the app flashes up information on a section of another driver’s windscreen augmenting their view without blocking it. Messages will be sent using symbol or texts.

There seem to be new advancements tying in elements of augmented reality emerging in the automotive industry almost every day. As covered in this article, innovative ideas are impacting all areas from empowering drivers with new knowledge to streamlining manufacturing, and improving road communication, and beyond. Presumingly all of these upgrades will add up to autonomous cars, so logically innovators would jump to the end and create something new that supports the ‘driverless cars’ of the future. With that in mind is there a reason for crafting a car-to-car communication tool since surely road rage will seamlessly be eliminated. Knowing of what’s in the future, or said to be, do these new releases of AR feel like we’re taking one step forward just to take a couple more backwards? 

Tesla had aimed to do a cross-country U.S. drive in one of its vehicles using fully autonomous driving capabilities by the end of last year, unfortunately, that was delayed and Elon Musk now expects the driverless car to hit the market by 2021, alongside competitors. The biggest hold-up in getting to market is said to be passing regulatory approval, though some spectate the consumer market is not ready for such an advancement and, therefore, are contemplating if the AR movement is just a ploy to prepare drivers and shape consumer behaviour. Or, the technology could simply not be ready and these components of augmented reality are acting as a patch to test new concepts on the road before the big release reshapes transportation as we know it.