Tech News : UK Cars Now Using Rear HD-Screens Instead of Windows

The new Swedish-made Polestar 4 will be the first car on UK roads to replace a rear window (and traditional rear-view mirror) with a high-definition screen showing a real-time roof-mounted camera feed.

Two Digital Cameras With Feed Displayed In ‘Mirror’ 

In fact, instead of a traditional rearview mirror, the Polestar 4 has a high-resolution rear-view display in the shape and in the place of a normal mirror that receives the feed from the two roof-mounted digital cameras. Polestar describes this as a kind of 2-way mirror because it also doubles as a regular mirror, making it possible to switch between the live feed and a view of the rear passengers.

Already On The Road In China

The new Polestar 4 SUV coupe has been on the road in China since December and there have been no publicised problems.

The Benefits 

Polestar says the benefits of making the rear window obsolete and relying on a camera view instead are that: “It allows for an extended panoramic roof, a spacious passenger environment, and generous headroom, while a rear-facing HD camera provides a wider, unobstructed rearward view.”  

Necessary Because Head Structure Was Pushed Back To Make More Room 

As highlighted by the BBC’s UK motoring programme ‘TopGear,’ replacing the mirror and back window with a camera feed was less of a decision to include technology and more of a design necessity. This is because the desire to create a feeling of spaciousness and extra headroom in the Polestar 4 required pulling the header structure back as far as possible so that the panoramic roof stretches behind the rear passengers’ heads. This would have meant that a back window would be below the actual sightline anyway, thereby meaning a traditional rearview mirror would be useless.

Concerns 

Although there haven’t been any prominent stories emerging about issues, some concerns have been floated on the Polestar Forum. For example, one user says the rearview camera puts “everything in equal focus so nothing is unseen or blurry, but then you lose any accurate depth perception”. Another expresses concern that although they have designed the roof camera “not to get dirty,” they “simultaneously say manual cleaning is recommended”.

That said, others see the camera as a plus. For example, another forum contributor makes the point that “rear view is already just about gone especially with my kids’ car/booster seats taking up all but the middle few inches of view; this would be a net plus for me in that respect”. 

Vans 

For those concerned about the idea of no traditional rearview mirror, it’s worth remembering that many vans with solid back doors don’t have rearview mirrors anyway, and some trucks now have cameras instead of wing mirrors. Many drivers will also be familiar with driving behind cars that have so much stuff in the back that the rearview mirror is likely to be useless anyway. Also, with passengers in the back of the car, the rearview is often obscured.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The Volvo-owned sub-brand Polestar is associated with sleek modern design and technology – perhaps in a similar space to Tesla so it’s not a huge surprise that it would opt for this kind of change. Also, as the boss of Polestar pointed out in a recent interview, being relatively new on the scene, it doesn’t have a legacy of customers to disappoint, or who are likely to object and complain. In fact, the removal of the back window and replacement with a camera-feed mirror actually seems to have been a necessary design change in order to make the car feel more spacious rather than purely a decision to include more new technology.

Thinking about it logically, if you accept that many vans on the road don’t have rear windows or rearview mirrors, and assuming we trust reversing cameras and then consider the fact that there hasn’t been a huge outcry about the gradual introduction of autonomous vehicles to UK roads, this change by Polestar shouldn’t seem too scary. It seems that as we experience (and trust) technology more, we’re willing to give more ground to it and swap more first-hand and ‘real’ experiences for virtual ones, even while travelling at speed. That said, Polestar says that its 2-way mirror actually gives a better and wider view of the road than a traditional mirror.

The hope is, of course, that the cameras don’t get dirty, and that the camera/mirror system doesn’t fail (there’s always the side mirrors if it does). It’s likely that in the quest for more comfortable and spacious vehicle interiors, other vehicle manufacturers will opt for a similar system.

Featured Article : ChatGPT Inside Vehicles Opens Possibilities

Following the news that Volkswagen (VW) is to add ChatGPT to the IDA voice assistant in its cars and SUVs, we look at what this could mean for the direction of technology for cars.

Adding ChatGPT 

At the current CET in Las Vegas, VW announced that starting in Europe in the second quarter of this year, the famous chatbot will be added to a variety of VW EVs, including the D.7, ID.4, ID.5 and ID.3, Tiguan, Passat, and Golf.

Drivers will be able to use ChatGPT hands-free via VW’s existing onboard IDA voice assistant, with Cerence Chat Pro from technology partner Cerence Inc acting as the foundation of the new function, which VW says, “offers a uniquely intelligent, automotive-grade ChatGPT integration.”

Within Limits 

It’s been reported, however, that certain limits have been placed on the kinds of questions that VW’s ChatGPT will answer, e.g. no profanity or ‘sensitive’ topics (it’s a family car).

Why? 

VW’s newsroom says the ChatGPT integration will mean that: “The IDA voice assistant can be used to control the infotainment, navigation, and air conditioning, or to answer general knowledge questions.” Also, VW envisions that: “In the future, AI will provide additional information in response to questions that go beyond this as part of its continuously expanding capabilities. This can be helpful on many levels during a car journey: Enriching conversations, clearing up questions, interacting in intuitive language, receiving vehicle-specific information, and much more – purely hands-free.” 

Just The Start 

Stefan Ortmanns, CEO of Cerence, the company tasked with the integration of ChatGPT with the onboard voice assistant has indicated that this is just the beginning, and that VW looks likely to ramp-up the power of its onboard AI going forward. For example, Ortmanns says: “As we look to the future, together Volkswagen and Cerence will explore collaboration to design a new, large-language-model-based (LLM) user experience as the foundation of Volkswagen’s next-generation in-car assistant.” 

What If It Was Combined With Autonomous Vehicles? 

This first for a volume car manufacturer and commitment to integrating generative AI with vehicles, coupled with the recent UK government suggestion that autonomous cars could be on our roads by 2026 raises some tantalising possibilities and questions. For example, what if AI chatbots like ChatGPT were integrated into autonomous vehicles and how could this affect the evolution of our cars and our commuting experience? Let’s explore some of the potential impacts and transformations this could bring.

Transformation into Access-Pods? 

Cars could evolve from traditional vehicles into “access-pods” and become spaces not just for travel but for various activities. In an autonomous vehicle, the need for a driver is eliminated, which would allow for the interior to be redesigned. For example, seats could become more like comfortable office chairs, and the inclusion of small tables or workstations could become standard. This could transform the car into a mobile office or a personal lounge, making the journey itself a productive or leisurely part of the day.

Working During Commute 

With autonomous vehicles, people could start working during their commute, just as they do on the train (only in a more personal setting). This could significantly change daily schedules, allowing for more flexible work hours. Also, as travel time becomes working time, the distinction between office and home could blur, perhaps leading to a more fluid work-life integration.

Could It Lead To A Societal Shift In Work Habits? 

The ability to work from a private car might lead to changes in living patterns. People might be more willing to live further from their workplaces if they can be productive during longer commutes. This could also have a wider impact on the property market, with less emphasis on living close to urban centres.

Enhanced Productivity and Entertainment 

The integration of AI chatbots in cars (whether autonomous or not) could, as VW suggests, make a journey more interactive and informative. Passengers can engage in productive tasks like setting up meetings, conducting research, or learning new skills through conversational AI. Additionally, entertainment options could become more personalised and interactive.

Safety and Accessibility 

For people who are unable to drive due to various reasons such as age, disability, or other factors, autonomous vehicles with AI integration could offer new levels of independence and mobility.

Traffic and Environmental Impact 

If autonomous vehicles and AI lead to smoother traffic flow and more efficient travel, there could be positive environmental impacts. However, if it encourages longer commutes, it might have the opposite effect.

Regulatory and Ethical Considerations 

With these possible advancements would come the need for new regulations and ethical guidelines, particularly concerning data privacy, cybersecurity, and liability in the event of accidents.

New Business Models?

The prospect of generative AI-controlled autonomous vehicles could also lead to new business models. For example, this could include things like subscription-based access to luxury autonomous pods for commuting, or services that combine transportation with other amenities like fitness, relaxation, or entertainment.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Although VW’s integration of generative AI with vehicle voice assistants is a first for a volume car manufacturer, there was a kind of inevitability to it and it’s unlikely to take long for other car manufacturers to announce the same (they’re probably already working on it). For VW, it’s (currently) a value-adding and differentiating introduction, so provided that the restrictions on what the onboard ChatGPT can discuss aren’t too strict, it could make the driving time much more interesting, productive, and a much more personalised experience. Linking it to the sat-nav for example, may also be a feature that motorists really value, as may be the greater feeling of control, reassurance, and novelty of having something that can tell you about the car and its performance and issues. It may also provide a societal purpose and make people feel less alone while driving and perhaps more alert. Using hands-free voice commands to operate more aspects of the car (e.g. the radio, the hands-free phone etc), may also improve driver safety.

Looking ahead, perhaps to the integration of generative AI with autonomous vehicles, it’s possible that a societal shift could occur where our vehicles become more like productive and comfortable access-pods, which could have wider implications for our work/life balance and business models and could have knock-on effects for whole industries. It could even open new business and entertainment opportunities focused on access-pod occupants. This move by Volkswagen, therefore, offers us a glimpse of a better future for our personal transport options.