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Panasonic’s augmented reality display aims to change the way drivers see roads

The head-up display, which projects information onto the windshield for drivers, has been available in some cars since 1988. But while over the past decade they’ve gone from relatively simple information displays like speed and music selections, Panasonic wants to take things to another level by precisely linking up symbols and text with real-world objects and roadways in front of the car.

Panasonic showed off its Augmented Reality HUD at 2021’s all-online Consumer Electronics Show. In a demonstration video, Panasonic’s system laid blue navigation lines, indicating the direction the driver should go, over the actual road. A yellow symbol pointed out a bicyclist to the side of the road and flashing signals warned of cars that were getting too close.

In the decades since they made the jump from fighter jets to cars, head-up displays, or HUDs, have become a commonly available option on all kinds of vehicles. These displays project information, such as speed and navigation instructions, onto a car’s windshield or a clear plastic screen in front of it so the driver doesn’t have to glance down at the gauges or at a screen in the car.

The numbers and symbols usually appear as if they’re floating somewhere just above the car’s hood. Some companies have figured out how to make them lay over real objects — including other cars, pedestrians and bicyclists — in the real world, creating a sort of augmented reality experience for the driver. It’s the next big step for head up displays, and systems like this have recently begun hitting the market. Mercedes will have a similar system on its new S-class sedan, and Volkswagen will include a similar system on the new ID.4 electric SUV in some markets.

This kind of real-world alignment is difficult to do because it requires knowing exactly where all the features of the road outside are, moment by moment, but also precisely where the driver’s eyes are at all times. It’s necessary to know both, because otherwise the graphics can’t be lined up properly.

To do this, Panasonic’s AR HUD uses eye-tracking technology to closely follow the driver’s eyes. A vibration control system helps compensate for bumps and other vibrations, and keeps the images in the windshield steady from the driver’s point of view. Imaging radar scans the road ahead across at least three lanes of traffic, according to Panasonic.

If the driver is using the navigation system, the head-up display will show a line on the road to indicate the correct route. The system can also highlight faded lane lines that might be hard to see. If the vehicle gets too close to a car ahead, a warning symbol can flash at the back of the other car to warn the driver to allow more space.

The 2021 Cadillac Escalade has a somewhat similar feature, but it’s not projected in the windshield. In the Escalade, a video camera captures an image of the road ahead which gets displayed on a screen in front of the driver. Navigation cues and other information are then incorporated into that image. That’s simpler to do, technically, because it doesn’t require the complex alignment a heads-up system does.

Panasonic is making its system available to various automakers so they can offer it as an option on their vehicles.

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