Mini's augmented reality glasses give drivers x-ray vision

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ByJonathan Bloom KGO logo
Monday, April 20, 2015
Mini's augmented reality glasses give drivers x-ray vision
Mini Cooper and Qualcomm have teamed up to create new technology to make driving a safer experience for those behind the wheel and outside the vehicle.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- While Google and others are busy designing self-driving cars, another lab in Mountain View is using technology to help you drive the car yourself.

Let's start with the obvious. The glasses are no ordinary glasses.

Mini Cooper and Qualcomm's new technology that aims to make driving safer is seen in San Francisco on April 20, 2015.

"You actually look through the lenses and see digital content on top of the underlying physical world," said Qualcomm Vuforia Vice President Jay Wright.

Each eyepiece has a tiny HD projector. Throw in a motion sensor, and the glasses know where you're looking so they can display information that appears stuck to the pavement or the buildings around you.

The glasses are a prototype built by the cellphone chipmaker Qualcomm and the augmented reality experts at San Francisco-based Osterhaut Design Group. A special Mini Cooper developed at BMW's Silicon Valley Innovation Lab is also sporting some experimental features.

"We've equipped this research prototype with three additional cameras," said senior advanced technology engineer Robert Richter. "One is located right here. It's being used for the x-ray vision."

Yes, x-ray vision.

The cameras stream video to the glasses, to let you see hazards you might otherwise miss.

"It gives you Superman capabilities to be able to see through that sheet metal," said Mini USA Product Planning Manager Pat McKenna.

Engineers began working on these glasses not long after Google Glass was announced. But while the California Highway Patrol has criticized Google Glass as distracting for drivers, these are actually meant to reduce distractions.

Richter confirmed that the glasses are meant to keep people's eyes on the road, "So, our primary goal was to increase safety," he said.

That includes linking up with your phone.

"It gives you the option of listening to it, "McKenna said. "And it will not show it to you."

The glasses display one turn at a time, and then show you where to park.

"Any parking space that is approximately one foot longer than the Mini gives you a signal in the heads up you display that that's a spot you can take," McKenna said.

Of course, unlike the car, the glasses aren't so mini.

"We need to do more engineering just to get things smaller and cheaper," Wright said.

You could see it come to market within a few years.