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Study concludes augmented reality technology under development at BMW will improve driver attention

Study concludes augmented reality technology under development at BMW will improve driver attention
Tristan Honeywill

Research just published in the Transportation Research: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour journal should encourage car makers to use augmented reality to improve safety. BMW is among the companies working on the technology.

Augmented reality systems use a display in the driver’s line of sight to present useful information, alerts and warnings. The study (read report) confirms that the technologies helped drivers detect hazards better and that drivers do not become less able to make their own decisions.

The simulator study was conducted by a group of neurology, engineering and psychology researchers at the University of Iowa. They evaluated the effects of augmented reality cues designed to direct the attention of experienced drivers to roadside hazards.

The drivers took a 90-minute, 54-mile route, made up of six straight nine-mile stretches of road. The researchers evaluated response times and how accurately drivers spotted deliberate false alarms.

Results show there were no negative outcomes associated with interference from the technology, even for the drivers with shorter attention spans. The researchers also reported that augmented reality helped to increase drivers’ response rate for detecting pedestrians and warning signs.

The research should encourage BMW. The company is working on a new “contact analogue display” technology that will make augmented reality even more realistic.

Dr Bernhard Niedermaier, Head of Human-Machine Interaction at BMW Group Research and Technology, explains: “We place the information at exactly that point in the driver’s field of view where it belongs and is required. Since the display is directly congruent with the real world, we can also selectively direct the driver’s attention to specific information or hazards, so that he can respond quickly and in an appropriate manner.”

BMW is working on ways to make it easier to see navigation instructions without taking your eyes off the road. It also plans to use the technology to make its Active Cruise Control more intuitive by showing the driver which vehicle is currently the “lead vehicle” and superimposes the preset following-distance onto the road surface. If the driver needs to brake or swerve in an emergency, instructions to the driver are more quickly and easily understood.

Other information could also include road boundaries and lane departure warnings, hard-to-see pedestrians at night. The system could even recommend evasive manoeuvres into other lanes, complete with marked-out paths.

The main challenge for the engineers is to increase the size of the displays: the bigger, the better. They must also need to make sure that the image they project appears much further away than it really is and above the driving situation. Another is to ensure the virtual and real worlds match properly. Far from simple to achieve, but definitely worth having when it finally makes it into production.


  1. The BMW engineers are relying on the German Tier 1 suppliers to deliver small form factor, wide Field of View, augmented reality HUD. Very intelligent fellows at BMW obviously. The leader in developing the *exquisitely* arcane, delicate hardware and middleware needed to provide those big FoV with a small package is actually a small California company, currently deep in pre-production with various large Japanese car makers. The Germans have been reluctant to empower their California R&D teams to work directly with us, although they’ve all been very appreciative. Sadly, it’s looking like BMW will not be first to market with what they call “Contact Analog” HUD. That honor is likely to go to one of our huge Japanese customers, who took the risk to engage a small company early in its development. Sometimes, the small team builds the “better mouse trap” as it were.

    Love your blog. Smart analysis, lay-reader friendly but also quite expert.

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