International Summit on Augmented Reality in the Automotive Industry, Part 1: AR in Cars and the Augmented Driving Initiative

auto-AR-featThis week I had the privilege of speaking on the world stage for the trade group AugmentedReality.Org and its “Augmented Driving Initiative” (more on that below) on a key issue for the AR industry.  This was at Euroforum’s International Summit on Augmented Reality in the Automotive Industry, held in Cologne, Germany. This is the very first–but certainly not the last–event of its kind. And as the world’s first regular blogger on AR legal issues, I was honored to be a part of it.

I will break my coverage of the summit into multiple posts, as even I was surprised by the breadth and depth to which AR has already permeated the auto industry. This first post will focus on what most of us probably think of when we hear “AR in automotive”–that is, augmenting the driving experience.

Naturally, my presentation surveyed the topic from a legal perspective. It had three parts. First, I surveyed and categorized the types of in-car AR experiences we’re likely to see in the near future. These include OEM-installed head-up displays (HUDs) on windshields. Several examples of this technology were explained in greater detail by another speaker, Ashutosh Tomar, Principal Engineer Technical Strategy (research) at Jaguar Land Rover. JLR has done more public brainstorming about the possibilities of in-car AR than any other manufacturer, including such nifty ideas as the transparent bonnet, virtual racetracks, “ghost car” navigational aids, transparent pillars, and pedestrian detectors that give both visual and haptic warnings.

jaguar-virtual-wind-screen-get-info-of-the-other-carUnfortunately, the scheduled speaker from Harman was unable to attend. They are also developing “a new augmented reality-based in-car infotainment system that combines two screens, a heads-up display and gesture-based controls to provide drivers with all the information they could possibly want while behind the wheel.”

Other categories of in-car AR from across the industry include:

  • Aftermarket HUD projectors;
  • augmented displays for passengers;
  • mobile phone adaptations;
  • in-dashboard displays, and
  • wearables.

Second, I discussed the legal authorities regulating such technology, such as they are. Although statements of principles can be found from engineering communities and regulatory bodies in various jurisdictions, there does not appear to yet be any on-point, binding regulation. As I’ve verified by interviewing several people in the industry, the most persuasive authority to date can be found in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2013 document, “Visual-Manual NHTSA Driver Distraction Guidelines For In-Vehicle Electronic Devices.”

Although aimed at more commonplace technologies as in-dash navigation screens, infotainment systems, phone dialers, and the like, the detailed study offers principles that could have application to AR devices. Some of these guidelines include:

  • Distraction comes in many forms, including visual, manual, and cognitive
  • Even simple tasks can be more distracting if they take longer to complete
  • Displays should be as close to the driver’s forward line of sight as possible
  • Glances away from the road should last no longer than 1.5-2 seconds, and tasks should not take longer than 12 seconds total
  • Displays of static or video images, text that scrolls or contains more than 30 characters, social media interactions, obstructions, and glare should all be avoided

In addition to these guidelines, AR designers should take into account the significant and growing body of study data on the risks of cognitive overload, or “inattentional blindness,” associated with AR.

In the third part of the presentation, I discussed with the audience how we might begin to apply these principles to what we know so far about AR in cars. I took pains throughout this part of the conversation, as I do again here, to stress that these are preliminary conversations about applications that in many cases are not fully formed or ready for market. So it would be imprudent to conclude that any particular example of the technology is dangerous or distracting. But it’s helpful to begin these conversations now, to avoid as many missteps as possible.

(Here again, JLR appears to be ahead of the curve. Mr. Tomar said that, although their projects are still in the very early engineering stage, their guiding principle is minimalism–showing the driver only what he needs to see, when he needs to see it.)

To get the industry as a whole thinking on these topics, AR.Org is organizing what it calls the “Augmented Driving Initiative” (ADI).  The goal of this informal group is to reach as much consensus as possible on a set of best practices for (1) implementing AR in vehicles safely, and (2) employing AR to make the existing driving experience safer. ADI has just begun its work, and already has OEMs, aftermarket start-ups, and data scientists participating.  I was pleased to get positive reactions to the effort at the summit, and the invitation is open to any entities with a vested interest in the topic to participate.

The slides from my speech are embedded below. Having trouble seeing them? Click here to view the presentation on Prezi.com.

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