Paul Gassler, via YouTube
The pillars on either side of your car windshield have become thicker over time, in order to stop your car from collapsing in case it rolls over, but the wider pillars have created pretty significant blind spots. Alaina Gassler, 14, came up with a possible fix for that (via Gizmodo).
To fill in the blind spots, she placed a webcam on the outside of the pillar on the passenger side, and used a small projector to display the live feed onto the inside of the pillar. She 3D printed a component for the projector to make the image clearer and lined the pillar with what sounds like a retroreflective fabric — it only reflects the image back to the driver, according to the description on a video demonstrating the fix. The result: an uninterrupted field of view.
“I wanted to find a way to get rid of them”
She tested out the prototype with her dad on her family’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, which has large pillars.
“I wanted to find a way to get rid of them,” Gassler told Popular Mechanics. “And my older brother, Carter, just started to drive, so it was a big safety concern.”
But the technology still has a little ways to go. In the video above, the image from the camera is shaky and the projection doesn’t blend in perfectly with the view. Gassler’s next prototype will use LCD screens, for better visibility in daylight — an issue that came up with the projection.
And car manufacturers are already thinking along the same lines. Hyundai and Kia applied for a patent with a similar solution involving cameras and projectors last year and car parts manufacturer Continental had the same idea, using cameras and screens. In 2017, Toyota received a patent for a “cloaking device” which uses mirrors to make the A-pillar look invisible. In 2014, Jaguar and Land Rover started researching a system that uses videos and screens to help drivers look through all sets of pillars, not just the ones on either side of the windshield. But none of these solutions seem to have made it to actual cars yet.
It’s not clear whether Gassler’s idea would be legal. Dashboard cameras, which also film and transmit video from outside the car like Gassler’s invention, are regulated so that they don’t obscure the windshield or record conversations within the car. Neither of those seem like they would be an issue for Gassler’s invention, but there could be other legal concerns. A major roadblock for this kind of technology is that the front car pillars often house airbags, a crucial safety feature. Continental told Wired that its screens could split to allow the airbags through, but that could take years to even test out.
But the innovation has so far proved successful for Gassler, when she presented it at the Society for Science and the Public’s Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars) science and engineering competition at the end of October. Her blindspot solution allowed her to take home the Samueli Foundation Prize, the competition’s top prize, along with $25,000.