Augmented reality is coming — far more than Pokemon Go.. But perhaps it won’t end up where you expect it. You can point to AR glasses and phone apps but I get most excited about AR in cars, where it has a mandate to improve vehicle purchasing, education and driving with deliverables that do
The virtual showroom
When it comes to selling cars, AR can do things a showroom can’t, like making cars appear how and where you want them, not just on the dealer’s lot in the colors the dealer has in stock. Placing a new car in your driveway in any color you want as you walk around it is radically different from the showroom experience. It also means cars can be summoned more casually than a trip down to auto row. There’s no substitute for certain things the dealer’s lot offers, but an AR presale process dovetails with the recent spike in interest around buying cars as digitally as possible.
The living owner’s manual
A future is coming where understanding your car won’t require flipping through an owner’s manual that seems like it was written with contempt for the reader. In 2015 Hyundai began offering AR owner’s manuals, which allow you to point your phone at something inside the car or under the hood and have it come to life, explaining itself on your screen.
Audi, Kia and Mercedes are among the car manufacturers that have also done AR owners manuals, though they’ve yet to sweep the industry. As AR developers become more common in the auto industry and car buyers’, this should be resolved. If it isn’t, manufacturers will lose that part of their relationship with their customers, who’ll turn to YouTube instead.
The road brought to life
Back in 2012 Mercedes-Benz showed me something called Dynamic and Intuitive Control Experience, which considered the windshield to be one giant HUD that labelled the world around you while also supporting visual cues for a gesture-driven interface. It all sounded impossibly futuristic back then, but now it’s hitting showrooms. The 2021 S Class debuted a new HUD with AR features. Watch my video to see how it brings adaptive cruise control to life, highlights the edges of the road in a curve, and flies little airborne indicators in your field of view that tell you where to turn. It even drops a map pin on your destination as you approach it.
Cadillac tackles similar AR benefits but in a different place: Its latest Escalade and coming drops AR features into the 14-inch curved OLED instrument panel display. That requires looking down at a display rather than up through the windshield, which I have reservations about, but the tradeoff is much richer image quality.
Also note that Cadillac also leverages another form of augmented reality by raising the volume of audio prompts as you get closer to a turn or other driving task, recognizing that AR doesn’t have to be visual.
AR is coming because, like many popular technologies, it flourishes where there are problems to be solved and a new technology ready to find its place in the sun by solving them.