By on August 22, 2017


Back in the days of sky-high tailfins and wraparound windshields, A-pillars weren’t of sufficient thickness to hide little Timmy riding his bike, or maybe that Ford Fairlane approaching from behind that shrub to your left. No, front seat vision was grand — trying to stop your Detroit barge with unassisted drums brakes was the real challenge.

These days, the high-strength steel and airbags needed for rollover and side-impact protection have turned those slim pillars into Corinthian columns capable of hiding a small crowd. A-Pillars are bulky, and that’s a safety problem in itself.

What to do? In Toyota’s case, simply develop a way of seeing through them.

According to a patent application filed to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by Toyota’s American engineering arm, the automaker hopes to give drivers a way of seeing past those intrusive beams. No, Toyota isn’t patenting honeycomb pillars. (That apparently Genesis’ job.)

Toyota see-through a-pillar, Image: Toyota

Toyota’s plan is to have light bend around the pillar, thus making it disappear from view. Freaky stuff, but not the time-bending pseudo-science of Philadelphia Experiment folklore. The “cloaking device” in the company’s patent uses a far simpler and cheaper solution: carefully arranged mirrors.

By reflecting what’s behind the A-pillar onto the interior surface of the pillar, the obstruction all but vanishes, leaving the driver looking at little Timmy or that errant Fairlane instead. Toyota explains it a far more technical, albeit confusing way:

A cloaking device includes cloaking region boundary planes oriented non-planar to each other, each of the cloaking region boundary plans having an outward facing mirror surface and an outward facing opaque surface. The cloaking device includes a cloaking region bounded at least partially by the inward facing opaque surfaces of the cloaking region boundary planes. Half mirrors are spaced apart and generally parallel to the outward facing mirror surfaces such that a half mirror is spaced apart and generally parallel to each outward facing mirror surface. Light from an object on an object-side of the cloaking device is directed around an article within the cloaking region and forms an image on an image-side of the cloaking device such the article appears transparent to an observer looking towards the object.

Got it?

The patent application describes the cloaking device as a cost-conscious alternative to pricey video display technology under development by other automakers. Presumably, the mirrored surfaces wouldn’t interfere with the pillar-mounted airbag.

Whether or not we’ll see these see-through pillars in a future Toyota or Lexus vehicle remains to be seen (or not, ha ha), so for now we’ll have to be content with the above drawing.

[Images: Toyota]

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19 Comments on “Bulky A-pillars Getting in the Way? Toyota Has a Clear Solution...”

  • avatar

    The problem with cloaking devices is that you have to uncloak in order to use your phasers.

  • avatar

    How about we keep discovering new ways to make them thinner, lighter, and equally as strong? This seems a bit overly complicated.

  • avatar

    Not just A pillars. ALL the pillars are ridiculous now. How about we keep the shiny side up and stop pulling out in front of oncoming traffic? Side impacts are by far the most avoidable accidents. Look before you pull out. So simple.

  • avatar

    The rollover safety standards have undoubtedly made rollovers more survivable – but at the cost of more danger for cyclists and pedestrians (and even very small cars) that are blocked from view by the thick pillars.

    What is needed is some legitimate research of injuries & fatalities saved in rollovers versus injuries & fatalities caused by the vision reduction.

    • 0 avatar

      I would guess that the need to house airbags is the bigger culprit than rollover standards, not that the two are mutually exclusive. I’d be curious to hear an industry expert clarify this.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem with heavy, thick pillars is rollover standards and airbags are reactive, designed to help keep you safe IF an accident occurs. Good visibility is proactive, helping to keep the accident from ever occurring.

  • avatar

    What happened to Volvo’s experimental “truss” pillar idea from a few years ago? It wouldn’t have room for an airbag, but they showed it could be just as strong as a solid pillar. No electrical bits or fancy technology to fail you. And to me, visibility (proactive safety) is more important than a couple extra curtain airbags (reactive safety).

    I just had one of my closest calls yesterday as an Impala approached in my A-pillar (in 24 years of driving with no accidents). The entire car was hidden. Thankfully it was low speed and I was able to stop.

    • 0 avatar

      “And to me, visibility (proactive safety) is more important than a couple extra curtain airbags (reactive safety).”

      The trends between visibility, number of airbags, and traffic deaths over the past ~3 decades indicate that the opposite is probably true.

      • 0 avatar

        In the macro sense, I think you are right. For the average driver, who is one step above a brain dead zombie behind the wheel, making the vehicle as close to a padded tank is probably best. Though I think the evolution of modern emergency medicine has a LOT to do with the decrease in traffic fatalities and does not get the credit it deserves. If you aren’t killed in the crash itself, you have a much better chance today than 30+ years ago.

        In the micro sense of the car *I* as someone who actually cares about cars and driving and really strives to pay attention to what I am doing behind the wheel is driving, I too would prefer to be able to see out of the thing and try not to pull out in front of someone or roll it.

  • avatar

    Just drive a Fiat 500L. Solves the problem with A-pillars, creates a whole set of new ones.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, if it’s sitting in the dealer’s shop, it’s not out on the road, getting t-boned. Win!

    • 0 avatar

      Good luck finding sun shades for your car.

    • 0 avatar
      King of Eldorado

      It’s not just the thickness of the A-pillars, it’s also the shallow angle of modern aerodynamic windshields that puts the lower portion of the A-pillars more into the driver’s line of sight. This is one of my few complaints with my second-generation Honda Fit, which otherwise has great visibility. I think the 500L is on the right track, albeit not well executed: place the structural roof-supporting A-pillars farther back and more vertically, and place a slim secondary pillar of sufficient strength to hold the windshield and two small triangular windows at a shallow angle farther out on the fenders.

  • avatar

    The pillars themselves don’t seem to be that large. It’s the loose fitting plastic trim that covers the pillar and an extra half inch on either side, then the blacked out glass around that to keep pedestrians from (gasp!) seeing inside that plastic cover. It wouldn’t take much to make an A-pillar reasonably trimmed and still much smaller than they are now.

  • avatar

    Jaguar/Land Rover had one of these as a concept back in 2014 called “360 Virtual Urban Windscreen system”. It used screens instead of mirrors, but it had the same result.
    I wonder if they patented it?

  • avatar

    people still look out the windshield? every driver i see these days is staring at their phone

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