By Tracy Cozzens
A new navigation system looks to make driving safer by removing the need for drivers to look away from the road at their navigation device. With Wikitude Drive, as a driver moves down the road, the route is “drawn” onto the live video screen of an Android smartphone.
How is this possible? Augmented reality.
Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery. The idea to blend augmented reality with navigation struck Philipp Breuss-Schneeweis, founder of Mobilizy, in 2008 when he was developing the Wikitude World Browser for the first Android Developer Challenge. Considering the awards Wikiude Drive has received so far, including being named Global Champion in the 2010 Navteq Challenge, it could be considered the next big advance in consumer navigation.
Wikitude Drive, which launched at the end of 2010, works by attaching a mobile phone on top of a dashboard looking at the road. The application then overlays video captured through the camera with driving instructions. This allows users to drive through their phone, watching the road even while they are looking at directions.
“With Wikitude Drive I don’t find myself looking for directions; the device itself guides me along the way,” said Nicola Radacher, product manager at Mobilizy.
According to Breuss-Schneeweis, Wikitude Drive distinguishes itself from other navigation systems in two ways: First, due to the overlaying of the route onto the live video stream of the surroundings, the driver can easily recognize and follow the suggested route. Instead of looking at an abstract map, the driver is looking at the real world. The navigation system leads the driver through unfamiliar territory in a natural, real, and easy way.
Second, Wikitude Drive solves a key problem that all other navigation systems have. These systems require the driver to take his eyes off the road to look at the abstract navigation map. Just by looking at the map screen for one second when driving at 100 km/h (62 mph), the driver is actually “blind” for 28 meters (92 feet).
“Think about how much can happen in those precious meters. Since Wikitude Drive provides you with driving directions on top of the live video stream, you still see what is happening in front of you when looking at the display of your mobile AR navigation system,” Breuss-Schneeweis said.
The AR system uses data from a smartphone’s GPS, compass, and movement sensors, retrieves information from its database, then displays the information over the camera feed. The company says millions of points of interest will also be displayed when a future version is integrated with Wikitude World Browser, the company’s AR browser for smartphone users.
Wikitude Drive still can be used the traditional way. In some driving conditions — for example when driving in the dark — a drawn map is advantageous, and a driver can switch to the 3D map view by tapping the screen. Voice commands are also provided.