While the technology companies continue to drive forward with autonomous vehicles, Nissan's vision of the future of self-driving automobiles lies in a cooperative experience between human and machine, facilitated by augmented reality.
At CES 2019, which officially kicks off this week, Nissan will present its in-car augmented reality concept, dubbed Invisible-to-Visible (I2V), via an interactive 3D experience at its booth in the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The concept system would merge on-board sensor data with information aggregated from Nissan's AR cloud in order to map a virtual environment around the car. In the near term, Nissan envisions the system as an assistant to drivers, with I2V eventually enabling passengers to visualize a self-driving car's performance in real time.
"By helping you see the invisible, I2V enhances your confidence and makes driving more enjoyable," said Tetsuro Ueda, a team member at the Nissan Research Center, in a statement. "The interactive features create an experience that's tailored to your interests and driving style so that anyone can enjoy using it in their own way."
The system would enable automobiles to detect immediate obstacles and risks in the vehicle's surroundings, such as pedestrians and other vehicles in the car's path, as well as impediments further along the planned route, such as the status of traffic congestion or accidents. In addition, the system would also be designed to measure the operator's alertness via interior sensors and suggest that a drowsy driver take a break to avoid tragedy.
"When a car processes sensing data and visualizes it, the driver feels at ease and can trust the car, resulting in a more confident and comfortable drive," said Ueda in a video demonstrating the technology. "In the future, visualization will remain key for the user interface and user experience."
Nissan is also looking to bring elements of virtual social interaction to the experience. As envisioned, the I2V system would connect drivers to friends and family, who would appear as avatars in passenger seats. Moreover, drivers could enlist local guides, who would recommend destinations for visitors in unfamiliar territory.
In the demo video, Nissan researchers use the Meta 2 headset and Unity's 3D engine to project avatars and data displays into the driver's field of view. Based on the footage, the experience hardly looks safe for a human driver, but would be ideal for the passenger of an autonomous vehicle.
"Cars will be autonomous, giving drivers more time for human interaction," said Ueda. "Your driving companion can be anyone, even if they cannot physically be with you in the car, because they can appear as avatars from the metaverse [aka the AR cloud]."
(Interesting Note: Instead of calling it the AR cloud, Nissan is apparently adopting the word "metaverse," a term first coined many years ago by Magic Leap's current chief futurist Neal Stephenson in his classic science fiction novel Snow Crash when describing a virtual copy of the real world.)
The video also shows how Nissan could deploy the system as a heads-up display for drivers as well. Using the same sensors that will eventually allow vehicles to drive themselves, Nissan's technology might warn drivers with a combination of prompts delivered in the driver's field of view and an aerial rendering of the vehicle's environment.
As these visions begin to become reality, it appears augmented reality is destined to be an ever-present backseat driver until the world is ready to let vehicles take the wheel.