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Your next car could have invisible seats

Posting in Energy

Most of us have backed into a lamppost at some point -- but would transparent car seats help?

Camouflage technology has been around the best part of a decade. However, even if you do apply it to the consumer market, it is only recently that it could be feasible for production, being expensive and not advanced enough to be of any use to customers.

This is where a team of researchers -- Susumu Tachi, Naoki Kawakami, Hideaki Nii, and Takumi Yoshida -- come in. At Keio University, the Tachi Laboratory focus on advances in "RPT", otherwise known as retro-reflective projection technology. Superimposing a 'virtual world' on to real space, RPT objects are camouflaged by projected images.

How an image projected onto the outside of the vehicle interior looks.

But how could this help drivers? By applying the retro-projection technique to vehicles, the team were able to give elements of the car a type of transparency. Taking video footage of space behind the vehicle and then projecting this stream onto the back seats, doors or floor, the back of a demo car appears to become the area that is generally a blind spot -- giving the driver an unobstructed view of any hazards.

If you can see that lamppost properly, you can gauge how far back to reverse before you hit it.

The surface that takes these video feeds are woven with thousands of retroreflective beads which pick up light and color from the projected feed. A display is embedded within the driver's rest.

Masahiko Inami, a developer of the original technology, told Wired:

"The driver will feel like he's driving a glass car. Sir Arthur C. Clarke said, 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' I want to develop technology like magic that general people can use easily in the future."

The technology is not at a stage where it is ready for the consumer market, and the team need to refine the invisible seats before it could potentially be used to improve driver safety. However, a question remains -- if retroreflective beads are necessary for the seats to project the transparent scene properly, would that mean passengers in the back would get in the way and null the safety feature anyway?

Image credit: Tachi Lab

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— By on October 12, 2012, 11:19 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure