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Role of AR / VR in Autonomous Cars

In part No. 1, we have seen what autonomous vehicles (AV) are, what benefits they offer and in part No. 2 what are the technologies that go into the manufacturing of AVs. In this final part of the series, we will discuss the most important aspect of driverless cars, which is safety, and what role augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) play in ensuring it.

Safety of AVs
While no one has doubts that AVs are just around the corner, no one can yet predict when it will find mass acceptance. Although technologies like AI (artificial intelligence), ML (machine learning), autonomous systems, LIDAR (light ranging and detection), radar, etc. are the important drivers of AVs, safety is the keyword that will make them successful. With the recent malfunctioning in AVs from the world’s leading companies, common people are still circumspect about them, and not without a reason. They are serious reminders that research and development on autonomy safety and assurance are still not adequate or experimental or production-level autonomous vehicles. One of the most tangible benefits of AVs is supposed to be the safety they offer. However, as AVs integrate nascent technologies like AI, ML, and the adoption of more distributed and networked architectural platforms, the design, modelling, verification, and validation of today’s autonomous and intelligent systems have become increasingly challenging. Evaluating the safety aspect of AVs is a daunting task, as it is the most critical part of a AVs success. Conventional design and validation methodologies are often not sufficiently equipped to address the challenges of a AVs safety. In order to create a truly safe AV experience, it is crucial to validate its performance over all possible environmental scenarios. However, such an evaluation is an arduous, if not outright impossible task as there are almost innumerable variables that vehicles face on the road.

Two such technologies that can be of use are augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). AR and VR are already popular in other sectors like aerospace and manufacturing industry, but they look destined to play a critical role in the safety of AVs as well.

A Brief Introduction to AR and VR
AR is an alternate reality technology that provides an enhanced version of the real world by overlaying our existing reality with an additional layer of digital information. VR is a technology which allows a user to interact with a computer-simulated environment, using sensors. Both AR and VR find uses in industry, education and entertainment, and companies that provide AR / VR services are in demand in India and the rest of the world.

AR and VR have in fact already been accepted by the automobile industry. AR Head-Up Display (HUD), is an driver assistance that provides basic real-time information such as vehicle speed, warning signs, and navigation that is projected onto the inside of the car’s windshield so that the driver can stay focused on driving. VR showrooms allow potential buyers to customize any make or model in exactly the way they want.  VR training tools have been developed that upgrades the skills of automobile technicians.  AR and VR are now making inroads in AVs as well, and will play a vital role in ensuring their safety.

Role of AR in AVs
AR's ability to seamlessly integrate a virtual environment into the real world makes it the ideal candidate for the testing of driverless cars. AR therefore provides not only a safer approach to testing, but also a more economical one.

LIDAR, one of the technologies used in AVs, ensures a precise depth mapping almost immediately, irrespective of the settings. AR can provide more accurate depth perception and virtual object placing to this LIDAR, improving safety.

The second way AR is useful is in proving the safety of AVs to people. Let us face it - people are concerned with the safety of the autonomous cars, especially after crashes reported by major companies who are at the forefront of developing AVs.  Even though AI, ML, and the numerous sensors should prove to be much safer than human drivers, people will be much less forgiving of machine error over human error. Companies are experimenting with providing AR experience to people where real vehicles can interact with computer-generated cars in real-time. Researchers use different, real world scenarios that enable them to assess the safety of driverless cars. Researchers are also working on using AR simulation to test software that enables real and virtual cars to communicate with each other. If that happens, it would enable the AVs to make better driving decisions. Thus, they can navigate any environment safely without endangering the lives of their passengers. Yet other companies are using AR maps to show people how driverless cars navigate the real world, allowing them to understand how driverless cars will function.

Role of VR in AVs
In autonomous vehicles, VR can be used to generate realistic virtual scenarios to train MI exhaustively. This can eliminate the need of the manual annotation because VR systems can generate the scenes and the annotation meta-data about the scene’s content automatically. VR is recognized as an excellent alternative in studies or simulations to avoid the risks of physical set-ups where people could be injured. VR has been used for training for a long time now as it can simulate situations that could be dangerous or life threatening in the real world. VR can hence provide training possibilities that otherwise would be costly, risky or even impossible in the physical world. VR can be used to train and test interactions between humans and AVs in a realistic environment and without the physical risks of the real environments. Using VR, it is possible to augment the AI and ML algorithms used by the AV software in order to improve its safety significantly. In addition, VR can also be used to train users to regain the car control and react properly in dangerous situations without risking their lives.

While self-driven vehicles are predicted to have a large impact on future life and mobility, their safety is still a challenge.  AR and VR, immersive technologies of today, are set to play a pivotal role in mitigating safety challenges in AVs. Companies that provide AR / VR services will certainly see their demand surge in the future.