Augmented reality goggles and glasses were once the stuff of sci-fi movies but are now being developed by a number of companies. While the Google Glass proved a miss and was pulled from the consumer market, the Microsoft HoloLens looks set to be the next big thing on its release. Now, car manufacturer Mini is jumping on the trend with its own wearable glass system, designed for use while driving.
The new system was announced at the Shanghai Auto Show this month and comes as part of a collaboration with Qualcomm. BMW, Mini’s parent company, offers windscreen displays in some of its models but the new project takes the idea one step further by using headwear designed by DesignworksUSA.
Mini’s augmented vision system relies on a Mini car with on-board Mini Connected app and a pair of large black goggles that look similar to ski goggles. These feature two stereoscopic 720p displays and a Snapdragon 805 processor along with connectivity processors too. They aren’t exactly fashionable and you probably wouldn’t want to wear them out in public in their current form, but they are currently a prototype so the design may change if the system is ever made available for public release.
The goggles are designed to be able to guide you through every leg of journey- from walking to your car, to driving to your destination and walking the final distance at the end. For example, while looking at event posters the goggles will show information such as location and ticket availability. There’s no gesture recognition but a small touchpad at the top of the glasses that allows you to scroll through and select options such as confirming the event as a destination.
The Mini goggles also offer on-foot information such as directions to and from where your Mini car is parked by connecting to your smartphone. They then connect to the wi-fi in your car once you get inside, where they layer information over your field of view. The speed and current speed limit are always within view, but information about buildings and points of interest is also shown, as well as customisable pop ups such as directions to the nearest petrol station. The goggles are careful not to obscure your view but these pop ups may prove distracting when you’re trying to concentrate on driving, especially if you’re taking a new route or are travelling through an unfamiliar town.
Mini’s augmented reality goggles aim to make navigation easier with pop up arrows and voice commands that allow you to keep looking straight at the road rather than at a map on a GPS system or smartphone. The goggles can also alert you when you receive a text message and a notification will be displayed so that you can select the option to have the text read aloud to you via the car sound system.
Using cameras installed on the outside of a Mini prototype, the goggles allow you to ‘see through’ your car and view things like your tyres while you’re parking or an animal in the road. A sensor on top of the goggles tracks your head movements so that they can show the X ray-vision style images when for instance you look towards the door or the passenger side. While this is undoubtedly a cool James Bond style feature that has been toned down for use for while parking, if the feature was activated while moving quickly it would most likely prove unnerving and dangerous.
While the goggles are not made for watching movies or gaming and the resolution would be inhibitive for those, it will cross most of our minds that in the car while driving is the last place you would think to wear smart glasses. Mobile phones have long been banned from the road as they’re too distracting and there have been calls for activities like eating to be banned too, so glasses that enable graphics to be created in your field of vision unfortunately don’t sound like an idea that will catch on.
Mini and Qualcomm do stress that the prototype has been built for research rather than consumer use, but they are hopeful that something similar to the Mini goggles will become available to the public in the near future. The research gained from the use of the goggles and prototype system will be forming parts of future projects so we may be seeing super smart wind shield displays in the future instead of bulky driving goggles.