An augmented reality heads-up display, created by researchers, could increase road safety by projecting real-time, high-resolution, three-dimensional holograms of potential hazards into a driver’s field of vision.

Researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and University College London (UCL) developed a system using 3D laser scanner and LiDAR data to create a fully 3D representation of London streets. Currently, head-up display systems are limited to two-dimensional projections onto a vehicle’s windshield.

They created a system that can “see” through things and project holographic images of roadblocks that are out of the driver’s line of sight, positioned such that they are both close to and larger than the actual object. To help drivers understand exactly where a road sign is and what information it displays, for instance, a 3D hologram of the sign might surface when it is obscured from view by a massive truck.

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By presenting road impediments and potential hazards in real time from any angle, 3D holographic projection technology helps drivers keep their eyes on the road rather than the windshield and may increase overall road safety. The journal Advanced Optical Materials has published a report on the findings.

Approximately 16,000 individuals perish in automobile accidents every day as a result of human mistake. One way that technology could help decrease this number and increase road safety is by informing drivers about possible hazards. At the moment, heads-up displays—which can provide data like current speed or driving directions—are largely used for this.

First author of the study Jana Skirnewskaja from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering explained, “The idea behind a heads-up display is that it keeps the driver’s eyes up, because even a fraction of a second not looking at the road is enough time for a crash to happen.” “However, because these are two-dimensional images, projected onto a small area of the [windshield], the driver can be looking at the image, and not actually looking at the road ahead of them.”

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For an extended period, Skirnewskaja and her associates have been striving to create substitutes for heads-up displays (HUDs) that could enhance traffic safety by offering drivers more precise information while maintaining their focus on the road.

“We want to project information anywhere in the driver’s field of view, but in a way that isn’t overwhelming or distracting,” stated Skirnewskaja. “We don’t want to provide any information that isn’t directly related to the driving task at hand.”

The group created a holographic point cloud video projection system for augmented reality that allows objects to be displayed in the driver’s field of view that are scaled and positioned in relation to real-world objects. The technology integrates LiDAR (light detection and ranging) data with data from a 3D holographic setup. Using a pulsed light source to illuminate an object, LiDAR measures the reflected light pulses to determine the item’s distance from the light source.

On the UCL campus in central London, the researchers scanned Malet Street to test the technology. Up to 400,000 data points were combined to create layered 3D holograms using information from the LiDAR point cloud. The idea of providing drivers with a 360-degree obstacle evaluation originated from the careful analysis of data, which allowed for a clear view of the depth of each object.

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In order to create and project the holograms in real time, the researchers accelerated the scanning procedure. The scans are significant because they can yield dynamic information because crowded streets are always changing.

“The data we collected can be shared and stored in the cloud, so that any drivers passing by would have access to it—it’s like a more sophisticated version of the navigation apps we use every day to provide real-time traffic information,” stated Skirnewskaja. “This way, the system is dynamic and can adapt to changing conditions, as hazards or obstacles move on or off the street.”

While gathering more data from various sources improves accuracy, the researchers claim that their study’s unique contribution is in providing a 360° view by carefully selecting data points from individual scans of particular objects, like buildings or trucks, to allow for a thorough evaluation of road hazards.

“We can scan up to 400,000 data points for a single object, but obviously that is quite data-heavy and makes it more challenging to scan, extract and project data about that object in real time,” stated Skirnewskaja. We can determine an object’s identity and size from as few as 100 data points. Just enough information must be obtained so that the motorist is aware of their surroundings.

At the Science Museum in London earlier this year, Skirnewskaja and her colleagues performed a virtual demonstration using virtual reality headsets loaded with the system’s LiDAR data. The researchers improved the system to make the design more inclusive and user-friendly with the help of user input from the sessions. For instance, they have adjusted the system to lessen eye strain and have taken visual impairments into consideration.

“We want a system that is accessible and inclusive, so that end users are comfortable with it,” stated Skirnewskaja. “The system is ineffective if it causes distractions. We are looking for something that will benefit drivers and increase the safety of all users of the road, including cyclists and pedestrians.”

To build the technology for testing in actual cars, the researchers are currently working with Google. In 2024, they intend to conduct driving exams on both public and private roadways.


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