The automotive industry has a history of embracing new technologies in order to enhance the driving experience for consumers. Over the years, automotive manufacturers have incorporated technology into their designs to provide consumers with emergency braking, collision detection, fuel efficiency, and in-car entertainment. But now there is another technology—augmented reality—that is preparing to completely disrupt the automotive industry.
Augmented reality is technology that is used to overlay text, graphics, audio, and other digital elements on the user’s real world environment. In other words, it allows users to superimpose various digital elements onto the world around them to blend the real and virtual worlds together.
A number of companies in the automotive industry are already starting to use augmented reality to give themselves a competitive edge. Here are some of the many ways that augmented reality technology is changing every aspect of today’s automotive industry.
Enhancing the Buying Experience
The use of augmented reality has the potential to completely transform the experience of buying a vehicle. To purchase a new vehicle, consumers typically have to visit a dealership to look at cars they are interested in. If the dealership does not have the exact car the consumer wants, they may visit other dealers to find what they are looking for. After all, vehicles are expensive, so consumers are hesitant to purchase one without seeing it in person.
But with augmented reality, consumers may not need to visit a dealership to inspect a vehicle in person. Instead, they can project an image of the vehicle onto their real environment. Consumers can inspect the projection of a vehicle just like they would inspect a vehicle at a dealership. The only difference is they can conduct this inspection from the comfort of their own home. This means consumers could get the information they need about a vehicle on their own, so the entire purchase making decision could take place outside of the dealership.
Augmented reality technology can also be used to enhance the buying experience at the dealership. For example, say a consumer visits a dealership looking for a specific vehicle. The dealership has the vehicle on their lot, but they don’t have the right color.
Without augmented reality, this consumer might visit other dealerships to find the vehicle in the right color. But now, the dealership can use augmented reality to project an image of the vehicle in the right color so the consumer can see it in person. This could help dealerships convert more customers and make more sales even if their inventory is limited.
Creating A Safer Driving Experience
Many automotive manufacturers are using augmented reality technology to keep drivers safe behind the wheel.
Taking your eyes off of the road—even if it’s just for a few seconds—is incredibly dangerous. In fact, thousands of people are killed in distracted driving accidents in the U.S. every year. To address this problem, automotive manufacturers have started to use augmented reality to keep drivers focused on the road in front of them.
Drivers will no longer need to take their eyes off of the road to read driving directions, check their speed, or see if it’s time to get gas. This information will be projected directly onto their windshield so they can see it at all times.
For example, images of arrows, speed limit signs, and other graphics might be projected onto the driver’s windshield to guide them to their final destination. Drivers can receive step-by-step directions on how to get to where they are going without ever taking their eyes off of the road.
This isn’t the only way that augmented reality is used to make the driving experience safer for consumers. Some manufacturers have designed vehicles that use augmented reality technology to project safety warnings onto the driver’s windshield.
For example, say a driver is approaching a pedestrian. In this case, a brightly colored arrow might be projected onto the windshield to draw the driver’s attention to the pedestrian. Digital graphics can also be used to notify drivers of potholes, construction zones, and other safety hazards.
Augmented reality technology is also used to help drivers safely park their vehicles. Drivers won’t need to use their best judgment to determine whether or not they can safely park their vehicle in a small or tight space. In some vehicles, drivers can now project an image of their vehicle onto the parking space to see whether or not it will fit. Other graphics, such as arrows and curved lines, are also used to help drivers safely pull in and out of parking spots.
Providing Drivers With A Virtual Assistant
These days, every smartphone is designed with a virtual assistant that responds to simple voice commands. But the automotive industry might enhance the virtual assistant experience with the use of augmented reality technology.
Last year, Nissan introduced its Invisible-to-Visible technology that combines a wealth of data from maps, sensors, and other sources and presents it to the driver using augmented reality. This augmented reality technology also gives drivers the option of interacting with a virtual co-driver who will sit in the passenger seat and communicate with the driver throughout their journey.
The virtual co-driver will be able to provide drivers with all of the information gathered by the Invisible-to-Visible technology. For example, a driver can ask the virtual assistant what exit they should take to get to their final destination or if there are any accidents reported on the road ahead.
Drivers can customize the appearance of their virtual co-driver. According to Nissan, consumers can create a co-driver that resembles their favorite cartoon character, a friend or family member, or someone else.
By using augmented reality in this way, Nissan is making driving more convenient and enjoyable for drivers.
Simplifying the Production Process
Automotive consumers aren’t the only ones who will benefit from the use of augmented reality technology. This technology is also being used to simplify the process of manufacturing new vehicles, which will benefit countless workers in the industry.
There’s no question that manufacturing a vehicle is not easy. Each vehicle consists of thousands of components, which must be brought together and assembled by skilled workers in factories around the world.
Building a vehicle is essentially like putting together the pieces of an incredibly complex puzzle—except there is no room for errors on the assembly line. Fortunately, some automotive manufacturers are beginning to incorporate augmented reality technology into the production process to make it easier than ever before to manufacture new vehicles.
One manufacturer that is using augmented reality to simplify the production process is Volvo. Assembly line workers at Volvo can use Microsoft’s HoloLens, which are augmented reality smartglasses, to look up specific instructions or view technical drawings while putting together the different parts of a vehicle.
Workers who take advantage of this technology won’t have to leave the assembly line in order to get the information they need. Instead, they can view the information right in front of them thanks to augmented reality technology. The smart glasses will project the step-by-step instructions, how-to videos, or technical drawings onto the user’s surroundings.
Using augmented reality in this manner ensures that workers get the virtual guidance they need to perform their job duties. Furthermore, it also speeds up the production process since workers will no longer have to leave the assembly line for help or waste time on figuring out how to put something together.
Making Maintenance Work More Efficient
Augmented reality is being used in a similar way to improve the efficiency of maintenance work in the automotive industry.
At Mitsubishi, maintenance workers no longer need to dig through piles of user manuals to find the information they need to make a repair or address an issue with a vehicle. Instead, workers can use a pair of specially designed augmented reality glasses to project the user manual for a specific vehicle directly onto their surroundings. These glasses even allow maintenance workers to enter notes on the repairs that were made using just their voice. Together, these features drastically improve the efficiency of maintenance work at Mitsubishi.
Visualizing New Designs
Hundreds—maybe even thousands—of changes are made to the design of a new vehicle before it is finalized. In the past, automotive companies were forced to create clay prototypes of new designs. If a change to the design was made, a new clay prototype was created. But now, augmented reality has made this design process far more efficient.
Ford uses Microsoft’s HoloLens to create prototypes of new vehicles. The HoloLens allows designers to see how their change will look or fit on an existing vehicle.
For example, if a designer wants to increase the size of a vehicle’s infotainment system, they can use the HoloLens to project an image of a larger infotainment system onto the existing vehicle’s interior.
Using augmented reality to project design changes onto an existing vehicle gives designers the opportunity to identify issues that could arise with the change. For instance, the larger infotainment system may partially obstruct the driver’s vision. By projecting the image onto the existing vehicle, the designer can recognize and address this issue before moving further in the process.
Thanks to this technology, designers at Ford can wait until they are sure that a change will work before ordering a more sophisticated prototype.
From the design and production of a vehicle to the consumer driving experience, augmented reality is impacting nearly every aspect of the automotive industry. But this technology is still fairly new, which means it’s very likely that there will be more changes to come. It’s safe to assume that automotive companies will continue to find new and exciting ways to incorporate this technology into vehicles in order to stay competitive in the crowded automotive industry.