MINI wants you to wear these augmented reality glasses while you drive

MINI Augmented VisionBusiness InsiderMINI Augmented Vision demo at MINI San Francisco, April 20, 2015.

The folks who build those fun, quirky little MINI Coopers have teamed up with Qualcomm and a San Francisco-based AR designer to try and take your driving experience to another level. The companies have created a set of augmented reality glasses that connect drivers and their MINIs in ways few other carmakers have explored.

MINI’s Augmented Vision glasses are basically a head-up display for your face; designed to integrate elements of the car’s onboard app ecosystem, called MINI Connected, into wearable technology. The glasses pair with the Connected system, to project information directly in your field of vision.

MINI Augmented VisionBusiness InsiderThe MINI Augmented Vision glasses, a design collaboration between BMW Group/MINI, Qualcomm and San Francisco-based Osterhout Design Group.

I got to try these Augmented Vision glasses during a demo at MINI San Francisco Monday evening.

The “lenses” are two stereoscopic HD displays that project 3D images and feature WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS.

I used the glasses for navigation during the demo. The device showed me street signs and big arrows that appeared directly on the road as I sat behind the wheel of a 2015 MINI Cooper S.

The glasses also scope out potential parking spaces, by using the car’s built-in technology to scan for spots large enough to fit the car.

At first glance, these things seem clunky (they’re actually quite light) and kind of extraneous. They pretty much do what we’ve been doing since cars were invented: negotiating the world around us as we roll down streets and highways.

MINI Augmented VisionBusiness InsiderAn overhead view of the Augmented Vision glasses.

It’s a head-up display for your face, used in a car you can buy with a head-up display of its own. So the first question I wondered is, “why does anybody need this?

MINI’s Manager of Product Planning, Patrick McKenna, put it this way, “it’s that next-level of head-up display, not designed to replace the driver, but to aid them instead.”

He has a point. Most modern head-up displays are a safety/convenience feature that shows you how fast you’re driving and detects potential road hazards. So, what’s the “next-level” part?

MINI is doing x-ray vision.

The glasses, in conjunction with the MINI’s various built-in cameras and sensors, “see” through the car to show what you might be missing.

MINI Cooper Augmented VisionPlay GIFMINI/QualcommA view of MINI’s version of obstacle/pedestrian detection through its Augmented Vision glasses.

The x-ray feature also works as a guide when the driver is parking, by showing a real-time view of your wheels through the car as you inch into a space.

Mini Augmented VisionMINI USAA demonstration of the MINI Augmented Vision glasses ‘seeing’ the wheels through the car to help guide the driver while parking.

Jay Wright, the Qualcomm VP helping to oversee this project suggests there’s potential for broader applications of this technology, saying “as we thought about the long-term vision of a head-up display for your life, it occurred to us that maybe it actually starts as the head-up display for your car.”

So, that’s the end-game here; for you to get some augmented vision in your life, not just in your car. Think of the glasses as a lifestyle product, a fully integrated wearable device like an Apple Watch.

The MINI Augmented Vision glasses are still in the early development stages, so it’s nowhere near ready for retail, but it’s a compelling glimpse at where car tech and wearable tech are headed.

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