19 October 2020
19 October 2020
Augmented Reality (AR) sounds like technology from somewhere in the future; you don’t really understand what it means, but you’re excited that someday you’ll find out.
Well, today is that day. We’ll explain not only how it works and what it can do to help you, but also how AR technology is already being utilised in Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
First things first – how does Augmented Reality differ from Virtual Reality? VR, as you might already know from movies and computer games, presents an alternate virtual world. A fully immersive experience, often using goggles or a headset that specifically excludes real-world sights and sounds.
AR, as the name suggests, augments your real-world view, enriching it with data or graphics. If you’ve ever played Pokémon Go – in which fictitious computer animations roam the real-world streets when viewed through an app overlaying your phone camera – you’ve already experienced AR. Apps that superimpose digital features onto a photo subject are another example.
You might also recall Google’s failed attempt a few years ago to introduce AR into our lives – ‘Google Glass’ was supposed to assist our lives with a trove of data superimposed onto the glass lens in front of our very eyes. But the technology was not mature, and it failed to become the next must-have gadget – for now.
Yet AR is finding plenty of other real-world applications. One type is where you point your phone camera at an object or a view, and an explanation – text or voice – adds another layer of understanding to what you are seeing. This is useful for sightseeing apps, in which the app correlates location data with image recognition to identify a landmark, prompting a detailed explanation.
Or, there’s Ask Mercedes – the downloadable app that uses your phone’s camera to recognise the controls fitted to popular recent Mercedes-Benz models and act as a virtual instruction manual, helpfully showing how to use each function you select.
But of all the current applications for AR, perhaps the most useful – and, potentially even life-saving – is its suitability as a tool to supplement and focus the driving information available to drivers. Many Mercedes-Benz vehicles can already be fitted with a heads-up display that superimposes a variety of data, including basic navigational information, onto the windscreen glass within the driver’s line of sight. AR is able to take this several steps further by graphically enriching the view with content that appears to integrate into the environment.
The recently released Mercedes-Benz S-Class can be specified with an Augmented Reality Heads-Up Display (AR HUD) that projects navigational prompts and information about driving assistance systems, appearing to blend them into the environment ahead of the vehicle. Not only does this aid in keeping the driver’s gaze on the road ahead, the system can show the driver directions in real time, highlighting the correct turning point in a complex intersection, projecting house numbers or depicting traffic lights that might be positioned out of the driver’s line of sight.
It can also use the vehicle’s many cameras and sensors to highlight potential obstacles that the driver may not have seen, such as a pedestrian about to step onto the road, a bike partially obscured from view by another vehicle, or detecting slow-moving traffic or obstacles ahead.
In a sign the future has, in fact, arrived, the projector that manages this function is a digital mirror device comprising a high-resolution matrix of 1.3 million individual mirrors and a highly efficient light source of the type used in cinema projectors.
Since the salubrious S-Class regularly acts as a technological incubator for the technology that trickles down the rest of the Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicle range, it’s not a stretch to suggest this advanced AR functionality will make its way into other elements of the range as generational updates filter through.
In the meantime, other models in the range – such as the just-updated Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the newly launched GLB SUV – are able to be specified with an alternate version of the AR technology. In this application, the vehicle’s forward-facing cameras and sensors are used to create a camera view on the 12.3-inch central touch screen, which is then overlaid with embedded data augmentation to help the driver safely navigate the road ahead.
So the future – at least, the one in which Augmented Reality begins to become part of our daily driving experience and an indispensable tool for navigation and safety – is already at hand for S-Class, E-Class and GLB customers. And it’s likely to be ‘coming soon’ to everyone else.
By Steve Colquhoun