Researchers plot a new dimension for in-car safety

12.20 | 27 April 2021 |

Image based on LiDAR data (left), converted to a hologram (right).

There are many ways in which technology is being used to improve road safety – but how about 3D holographic images to alert drivers to potential hazards they may not be able to see?

Well that’s what researchers at three of the UK’s leading universities – Oxford, Cambridge and University College London (UCL) – are currently developing.

The project is in its early stages – in fact, it has not yet been tested in a car – but researchers say the technology could allow drivers to ‘see through’ visual obstructions, such as large trees or trucks, while keeping their eyes on the road.

So how does it work?

The sophisticated system is being described as a 3D holographic head-up display.

First used in the aviation industry, a head-up display, or HUD as they are also known, projects information onto the windscreen in a transparent display.

HUDs are an increasingly common feature in many cars, showing information such as speed or fuel levels, typically in 2D.

The technology being used in this project creates ultra-high-definition 3D holographic representations of road objects, beamed directly to the driver’s eyes to create augmented reality (AR).

AR is where virtual objects are layered over real world settings – and is already being used in road safety education.

In this instance, it would enable drivers to see obstructed objects, such as road signs, as 3D holographic images.

Lead author Jana Skirnewskaja, a PhD candidate from Cambridge University’s Department of Engineering, said: “HUDs are being incorporated into connected vehicles, and usually project information such as speed or fuel levels directly onto the windscreen in front of the driver, who must keep their eyes on the road.

“However, we wanted to go a step further by representing real objects as panoramic 3D projections.

“Panoramic holographic projections could be a valuable addition to existing safety measures by showing road objects in real time. Holograms act to alert the driver but are not a distraction.”

For the tech geeks, the new system is based on LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology – which works by sending out a laser pulse to measure the distance between the scanner and an object. 

LiDAR is commonly used in agriculture, archaeology and geography, but it is also being trialled in autonomous vehicles for obstacle detection.

Once the technology has been refined, the researchers plan to carry out vehicle tests on public roads in Cambridge.



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