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The virtual urban windscreen

A couple of months ago we wrote about Technicon’s Ixion concept – which did away with windows on a plane, replacing them with projected images from outside. This week, we saw the first step towards a similar technology being introduced in cars. Jaguar’s 360-degree ‘virtual urban windscreen’ utilises screens ‘embedded inside the car and take a live video feed from the cameras covering angles outside the car usually obscured in the blind spots created by the A, B and C-pillars’.

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It looks impressive – not least because it plugs into the Internet of Things / Car-to-X world, to pick up data from other roadside objects, vehicle and people in order to help alert the driver to hazards and provide information.

It’s cars communicating with each other and the environments in which they are moving through that is likely to have the biggest impact on cutting road accidents. And where the internet of things and the connected car ‘collide’ (if you’ll excuse the pun) really does through up some potentially fascinating scenarios, in terms of data creation, the information we can capture and new ‘problems’ for designers to solve ­– of which this is one of the first examples we’re seeing.

However, impressive though this technology showcase undoubtedly is, it is being used to solve a problem created by design/engineering in the first instance, rather than do anything truly new or better.

Cars are now much harder to see out of than they once were. And while it’s in part due to much thicker pillars (to make cars far safer than they were), designers have played a big role in making cars more bunker-like, with styling. The proportion of body-to-glass continues to increase in almost all new models. Rear decks get higher. Rear window quarterlights narrow. It all makes cars much harder to see out of than they once were. Which is why the Americans are going to make back-up cameras mandatory soon, so that we can all watch on a blurry screen as we nearly run over our kids playing on the drive, rather than actually looking in the direction we're going...

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So fair play to Jaguar for using technology to try and solve a well-acknowledged issue. But it’s ironic that Volvo’s 2001 SCC solved exactly the same issue in an apparently much more low tech, (we say apparently as it’s a much more expensive yet elegant problem-solving approach to design).

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Hot on the heels of this announcement came one about Volvo and winter/safety gear manufacturer POC, teaming up to connect cyclists and cars together to prevent accidents.

So, is technology changing the future of car design and how we use the road? Or is this simply a ‘let’s throw tech at the problem’ approach the misses the bigger picture and some of the wider underlying issues?