It's like something out of a James Bond film: You climb into a car with no windows, but you can still see the entire world around you from the driver's seat.
That's the promise of the Honeywell 360 Display, a mixed-reality headset that combines data from sensors and cameras installed on a vehicle to give you a full view of your surroundings, even if you have low or no visibility.
The brainchild of Honeywell Aerospace, the headset was designed for military vehicles where visibility might be low -- think armored cars or off-road vehicles driving in dangerous environments. But the tech is designed to be "sensor agnostic," meaning it can be retrofitted to virtually any vehicle.
"It's taking sensor inputs from cameras, speed indicators -- pretty much anything that can be displayed or that has a sensor on the vehicle -- and it's feeding that into our display," said Julie Heck, Honeywell's senior director for product management.
"We're really creating a 360-degree virtual view dome. So everything's blacked out, but you're sitting in the car and you can drive it. Basically it feels like you're driving in a convertible."
The 360 Display was originally developed in an early prototype version for DARPA's Ground X-Vehicle Technologies program in 2018. That iteration used physical screens and head-tracking technology and was installed in a jury-rigged all-terrain vehicle with a covered-over canopy. According to DARPA, drivers using the prototype in the blacked-out ATV were able to drive through a test course in "roughly the same time" as those driving a normal ATV.
After that early prototype, Honeywell refined the technology and reduced the display from a full setup of physical screens down to a single headset with a flip down visor. The company tested the 360 Display in a Hummer H1, fitted out with sensors, cameras and infrared night vision that all fed into the display. Rather than looking out the window or at screens in front of the wheel, the driver in the Hummer sees a stereoscopic view of the world outside the car, overlaid with things like speed, topography and distance to landmarks.
The system also creates a top-down "drone view" of the vehicle in the context of its surroundings. And according to Heck, if a vehicle has cameras mounted underneath it, "you can actually look down through the floorboard and see the ground."
Though Honeywell is currently developing the 360 Display for military ground vehicles, it's already eyeing other use cases, like mining, firefighting and construction -- anywhere a driver needs to "move safely in a low visibility or hazardous environment."
The company also says there are applications in shipping (where sonar could be fed in to show underwater hazards) or aviation. In a future where airspace becomes more congested with drones and autonomous electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, or EVTOLs, the 360 Display could allow human pilots to safely navigate the skies and know the exact distance and location of other aircraft.
And according to Heck, this display could make life on the road easier for regular drivers.
"It absolutely could be adapted to consumer vehicles. You put on a visor, or maybe someday in the future a pair of glasses, and you can have your speedometer, your navigation, your stereo controls ... right in your field of view."