Augmented reality will change the way we buy and drive cars
Forget glasses. AR may have its first big consumer success in cars.
Brian CooleyEditor at Large
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and the Publicis HealthFront. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
ExpertiseAutomotive technology, smart home, digital health.Credentials
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' phones contain better AR support, 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 Lyriq electric SUV 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.