Michigan: When Coke bottle glasses just won’t cut it for safe driving, a futuristic windshield might do the trick.
General Motors Corp. researchers are working on a windshield that combines lasers, infrared sensors and a camera to take what’s happening on the road and enhance it, so aging drivers with vision problems are able to see a little more clearly.
Though it’s only in the research stage now, the technology will benefit users, especially senior citizens. The 65 and older population in the US will nearly double in about 20 years, implying that more people will be struggling to see the road like they used to.
GM’s new windshield won’t improve their vision, but will make objects stand out that could otherwise go unnoticed by an aged eye. At the same time, developers say that the technology won’t cause drivers to plow into trees. It is enhancing just a few objects that are already in a driver’s view, not splashing distracting information onto the glass.
For example, during a foggy drive, a laser projects a blue line onto the windshield that follows the edge of the road. Or if infrared sensors detect a person or animal in the driver’s path during a night drive, its outline is projected on the windshield to highlight its location.
It’s possible because of a transparent coating on the windshield that lights up when struck by ultraviolet light. “It is not easy to implement technology like this,” GM researcher Thomas Seder said in a recent interview. It’s also been a bit of a struggle to get skeptics to see how helpful the windshield could be, he said.
The windshield is designed specifically for older drivers, who have vision problems at a much higher rate than other age groups. Currently, 12.4% of the population is 65 or older, but by 2030, that percentage is projected to jump to 20%, or 71.5 million people, according to the US Census Bureau.
Chrysler LLC spokesman Nick Cappa said the company is working on various windshield technologies, but he declined to provide details. Ford Motor Co. spokesman Alan Hall said that automaker didn’t have any similar plans.
Some cars already feature head-down displays, small screens in the dashboard that show an enhanced view of what is in front of the car.
Head-up displays, so called because a driver doesn’t have to look down to see the information, also are available. But the technology is limited. The head-up display in a Cadillac STS features information such as the speed or radio station projected onto a small area of the windshield.
Add-on features that can help
Some features would be helpful to drivers of all ages. If a driver is speeding, a pink box frames an approaching speed limit sign to draw the driver’s attention.
Another feature solves what Seder calls the problem of the last 50 yards in Global Positioning System navigation. Seder said he wants to provide technology that helps them, but at the same time isn’t distracting or overwhelming.
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) spokeswoman Nancy Thompson said she believes drivers heading toward old age will embrace the technology.
“The boomer population has grown up with technology and is comfortable with technology,” Thompson said. “Our research shows a willingness to adopt technology to make life easier. It seems like a logical extension of the boomer lifestyle to include technology that makes them safer on the road.”
Owsley, who has researched vision in drivers for 15 years, is running focus groups to interview aging drivers about the issues they face, but said there’s a common theme among the drivers. “Older adults are like adults of all ages,” she said. “They want to drive.”