See-Through-System Uses Networked Webcams to Makes Cars Transparent

By Wesley Fenlon

Big truck blocking your view of the road ahead? Just look through it!

Researchers envisioning our future highways and intersections often talk about a wireless mesh networking our cars together. It's the simplest way to support an autonomous fleet of cars, and would theoretically prevent the kinds of collisions that would be much harder to avoid with sensors and internal processing. Setting aside the fleet of self-driving cars for a moment, though, networked vehicles could still offer some cool advantages when humans are behind the wheel.

Smithsonian Mag recently wrote about the See-Through System, an augmented reality system designed for networked cars at the University of Porto in Portugal. The See-Through System works off of a networked car protocol designed to share traffic information. But instead of sharing traffic data, it shares a video feed.

"The See-Through System makes innovative use of these systems by tapping into the visual data being recorded by the forward-facing webcam that some vehicles have installed on their windshield," writes Smithsonian Mag. "When a truck or bus ahead of you has this type of webcam, the system within your own car streams the feed from this camera into a transparent LCD screen built into your windshield. The viewpoint helps you judge distances and see whether any incoming cars in the other lane are moving into view."

According to the system's creator, Michel Ferreira, the system's latency is only about 200 ms. That translates to "about 10 meters at high speed and won’t make any difference with safety in real-world driving," he says.

The practicality of something like the See-Through System will ultimately take a lot of testing to vet. There are serious questions to address--will this prove dangerously distracting to drivers? Could that 200 millisecond delay actually be dangerous in some circumstances? Could glitches in the system be a hazard to drivers? And, of course, there aren't that many cars on the roads currently with webcams built into their windshields. But it's a great concept--no more craning your neck out the window to see why traffic is backed up in front of you.

Check out the following video of the See-Through System concept in action.