American car giant GM is working on an "enhanced screen" windshield that can augment the driver's view with virtual images in poor visibility conditions.

The "enhanced vision system" uses data gathered from cameras placed around the vehicle to project extra images onto the windshield using ultraviolet laser beams. Developed by GM, Carnegie Mellon University and The University of Southern California, the system could find its way onto vehicles in the "near-term future."

"Let's say you're driving in fog, we could use the vehicle's infrared cameras to identify where the edge of the road is and the lasers could ‘paint' the edge of the road onto the windshield so the driver knows where the edge of the road is," explained GM's Thomas Seder.

GM has coated an ordinary windshield with a transparent phosphor that glows when excited by a light beam from the compact lasers installed in the vehicle. By combining the windshield with other technologies such as navigation and infrared cameras, the carmaker believes that it can offer drivers new levels of safety.

Infrared cameras placed around the car, for instance, could offer night vision to enable drivers to "see" the precise locations of animals on the side of the road that ordinarily would be missed by the naked eye. Data from onboard navigation devices could also be displayed on the windshield, creating "virtual" signposts at traffic junctions in poor visibility.

"We have done testing on a number of drivers and their performance is better relative to head-down systems that are commonly used in vehicles today," Seder said. "It's a compelling design."

GM's system is an evolution of "head-up displays" (HUD) that are commonly used in aircraft cockpits but slow to make the transition to cars. Although GM began using the displays in 1988, few cars come with HUD as standard. In 2003, BMW offered a four-color HUD for the first time on the BMW 5 Series, and confirmed last year that it was also experimenting with laser projection to expand the size of HUD screens.



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