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This Pennsylvania teen homebrewed an invisible A-pillar for cars

14-year-old Alaina Gassler came up with the system after seeing her mother struggle with visibility in their car.

We're always excited when we hear about young women getting involved with STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- because those fields still struggle with the underrepresentation of women. Add in our passion for cars, and it becomes pretty easy to see why we're so pumped for 14-year-old Alaina Gassler and her homebrewed blind spot reduction system.

Alaina's system uses a webcam, a projector, a 3D printed adapter and some retroreflective fabric to make a vehicle's A-pillar effectively invisible.

Why is that helpful? Well, as cars have been subject to more and more stringent rollover protection regulations, their A-pillars (the pillars that surround the windshield and help hold the roof up) have gotten thicker, reducing visibility.

What Alaina's system does is take the image from a webcam mounted on the exterior of the vehicle and sends it to a small projector mounted near the sunroof in the car's interior that projects the video onto the A-pillar, which has been covered in retroreflective fabric to help make the image clearer.

The system is not entirely dissimilar to a patent application filed by Hyundai back in October of 2018. That system was much more complicated though, relying on specially shaped screens to display the images. Toyota and Jaguar Land Rover also worked on invisible A-pillar tech, but this middle-schooler from Pennsylvania seems to have figured out the cheapest way yet to make it work.

Gassler's use of retroreflective fabric is ingenious. Unlike a traditional reflective material that bounces light in all different directions, a retroreflective bounces light directly back at its source. It's not terribly expensive, and the tech behind it isn't new -- it's common on safety gear for cyclists and motorcyclists -- but its use here helps reduce glare from the projector for vehicle occupants.

Alaina's blind-spot tech was good enough to win her the top prize -- a $25,000 gift from Henry Samueli, chairman of the board of Broadcom and his wife, Susan Samueli, president of the Samueli Foundation -- at the Broadcom MASTERS event, the winners of which were announced on Wednesday.

We can only hope that Alaina's success gets automotive manufacturers paying attention and that she can help inspire more young women to get involved in STEM fields. 

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