By on January 23, 2019


Do you ever get the sense that much of today’s automotive technology whittles away the more natural aspects of driving? We’ve endured numb electronic steering, advanced driving aids, absent volume knobs, overly complex infotainment systems, and faux engine sounds for a few years now. To be honest, it’s been a mixed bag.

Sometimes these things work toward a greater whole, but they can also be persistent annoyances that detract from everything that makes driving enjoyable. Maybe it’s because I enjoy the act of traveling so much that I’m less eager to see tech muddy its purity. It’s not that I don’t find the new stuff interesting — quite the contrary. Rather, it’s just that I think automotive tech gets in the way more often than it should. But I’m also the kind of moron you’ll see riding a motorcycle through light snow because I “appreciate the experience.”

So it should come as no surprise that, after learning of its existence, I believe Toyota’s virtual sunroof is a bridge too far.

According to our friends at AutoGuide, Toyota has filed a patent for a ceiling-mounted screen capable of displaying moving images of the car’s exterior. While it could project any image your heart desires, the filing clearly shows the “sunroof” focusing on the sky above.

From AutoGuide:

This patent is for a ceiling mounted display that would essentially function like a sunroof, showing the environment above you as you drive along via a camera feed. It wouldn’t necessarily show an exact image of the outside, but would instead combine the foreground, mid-ground and background layers, scrolling them at different speeds to create the illusion of speed. This wouldn’t be so much for the passengers to look out of, then, as it would be to create an illusion of speed for the driver and passengers.

While I fully understand the appeal of something like this from an automaker’s perspective, especially once autonomous vehicles become commonplace, the prospect of a giant screen further augmenting reality doesn’t do much for me personally. Treated glass has worked wonderfully for decades and automakers have reached a point where they can use electrochromic technology to make a skylight opaque on demand — assuming you’re too lazy to move the blind.

As gimmicky as it sounds, I wouldn’t be surprised if the virtual sunroof eventually found its way into high-end production vehicles. While it doesn’t seem all that great to live with, the system would dazzle individuals on a test drive and be something you could really rub in your neighbor’s face. At the very least, expect it to be a hot trend among concept cars someday.

[Image: Toyota]

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46 Comments on “Toyota Developing ‘Virtual Sunroof’ For Future Models?...”


  • avatar
    NECarGuy

    What is the point of looking at a picture of what is above you versus looking out a piece of glass? I understand they can feed a different picture if wanted, but it seems sort of silly.

    I rarely use my moonroof to look through, but rather for the natural light it provides. It just makes everything feel more open.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Here’s hoping the feature can be disabled for when your teenage boy is driving the car. Otherwise, you KNOW what he’s gonna be projecting up there.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Considering that I use my sunroof to get some air motion in the car, I would consider this invention virtually useless.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    What a waste of technology, next we’ll be building houses without windows and just cameras and wall mounted monitors to “look” outside

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    Fantastic. A couple more steps along this technology road and I will be able to stay in bed and pretend I have driven somewhere.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Given how often the motors in my Grandmother’s “Astro Roof” in her 1979 Ninety-Eight burned out (every 30,000 miles) she likely would have been in favor of this idea.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Patent doesn’t mean something patented will see the light of day.

    I have worked at several large corporations that encourage their employees to apply for patents. For the employees it becomes resume fodder, office/cubicle fodder, and bonus money. For the company it becomes we can charge someone to access our patent if they ever do this.

    The first thing that comes to mind with a virtual sunroof is the cost and manufacturing complexity. It isn’t putting a flat panel TV into the roof and calling it good.

  • avatar
    JMII

    You people are missing the best part:

    “it would be to create an illusion of speed for the driver and passengers”

    Translation: our cars are so slow and your stuck in traffic going nowhere so we need to project images of moving things to trick into thinking you are in fact MOVING in a vehicle.

    Reminds me of the old “If You Had Wings” ride at Disney World where it projected fast moving images in a tunnel to make it seem like you were flying. Disney even had fans blowing on you to complete the effect. Super cheesy… it was branded both by Eastern and then Delta Airlines back in the late 80s thru the 90s. It was replaced with Buzz Lightyear Space Spin which is a green and orange blacklight infused laser tag blast ’em up game-ride hybrid that my wife adores.

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      *You people are missing the best part:

      “it would be to create an illusion of speed for the driver and passengers”*

      If the driver is staring up at it, trying to get an illusion of speed, I’m getting out. Not through the sunroof, though, I guess.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    These kind of patents are there to prevent others from filing them and then block everyone in the industry from doing it, just in case, pre-emptive patent trolling for anti-trolling and greater good.

    Whatever.

    If you don’t have any problem with motion sickness why don’t you play a movie on the top screen instead? why not put some aquarium under water tunnel footage? or train ride through the forest?

    Or advertisement for commercial rides?

  • avatar
    Luke42

    I’m about as technophillic as they come, but I don’t see the point of this.

    I open the sunroof for natural light, and to make the cabin feel more spacious.

    I don’t *look* out of it, because I’m a competent driver.

    Tesla’s heavily tinted glass roof makes much more sense if you’re trying to eliminate leaks and mechanical complexity.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    “As gimmicky as it sounds, I wouldn’t be surprised if the virtual sunroof eventually found its way into high-end production vehicles.”

    … And just as quickly die because you lose the real benefit of the sunroof… getting the wind in your hair and enjoying the REAL outdoors.

  • avatar
    pprj

    Pathetic. They can’t even do apple car play and android auto…
    Virtual ceiling? Give me a break.

  • avatar
    watersketch

    Program it to show me driving down a sunny Pacific Coast Highway when I’m driving the slushy streets of Detroit in January!

  • avatar
    JimC2

    The killer app for this virtual sunroof screen technology will be the ability to observe Klingon vessels, hail them, and Skype with them from half a parsec away.

  • avatar
    spons70ss

    And Toyota has disabled the 3″ x 3″ FLAC cover art display on my 2018 Camry’s dash screen when the car is moving because it would be too much of a distraction.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    No worries about hail crashing through the moonroof (that was a big problem when we got baseball-sized hail three years ago).

  • avatar
    smapdi

    I like sunroofs for the natural light they allow in and additional ventilation for fresh air. My previous vehicle had one and when I traded it in for one without, it immediately felt claustrophobic and I have always planned on going back to having one. I never had any problems with leaks and it was a 12 year old vehicle when I traded it in (and just a budget small SUV).

    Using this tech for a sunroof seems 100% useless in place of a real window. What I DO see this extending to are thick pillars. If they could work a screen onto each pillar that would help a lot with visibility issues.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      Have a 2011 GTI with sunroof – no leaks. Have a 2003 SVT Focus with sunroof – no leaks. Had a 2000 Passat with sunroof – no leaks.

      I live near Buffalo, NY – rain, much snow…no issues.

      Aside from the ventilation offered while driving, I can also leave my car parked – in summer – with the rear of the sunroof kicked up – car stays probably 30 degrees cooler than it would with a solid roof, but it’s still securely locked and for the most part rain-proof.

      All of the anecdotes in this thread about sunroof issues are about cars made at least 25 years ago, and one made 40 years ago.

      If TTAC was around in the 1980s, there would be people talking about the troubles they had with a/c on their 1955 Cadillac.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Sunroof leaks aren’t an issue of brand or weather in my experience. I ran a shop in Charlottesville, Virginia. The incredible amount of organic debris in the area clogged sunroof drains of our customers with regularity. In my opinion, the biggest cause was oak pollen. In most cars, the result was just an annoyance. Blowing out the drains and ozone treatments generally solved the problems and eliminated the mildew smells that tipped people off to the leaks.

        We did have a 2014 Mercedes-Benz C350 that was disabled by water damage from a clogged sunroof drain that took out its CAN bus network. The repairs were well beyond the car’s new owner’s ability to pay. Our factory-trained Mercedes-Benz tech instantly identified the problem. He’d seen it many times before when he worked at the dealership. The cars we saw with the most sunroof drain issues were Subarus, perhaps because a huge plurality of our customers drove Subarus. I can’t recall one of them having any repercussions from the leaks other than smelly carpets.

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          A question, Todd: Do the drains clog when people have left the sunroof open AND the car outside? My parents’ sunroof-equipped vehicles (four, owned at various points since 1982) never have leaked, despite being parked outside for most of May-October. I’ll note that they always close the sunroof when parking.

          For some context, the areas around the hood hinges on their current ride (a Lexus NX) collect a huge amount of leaf and twig debris over the course of the summer. It’s like Toyota designed the grille and the base of the windshield specifically to trap leaves.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            No customer ever copped to leaving their sunroof open. Oak pollen gets everywhere as a powder or in strands. Then it clots when it gets wet. Dreadful stuff.

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            Interesting. My parents park in a pretty heavily forested area, but it’s mostly cedars, maples, and a handful of birches mixed in.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        25 years and four Hondas, all with sunroofs, and not one leak.

        One stress-crack replacement on the 1994 Civic, a TSB for a squeak fix on the 2000 Accord, and a couple trips to the dealer when a bit of errant crap got onto a track, preventing the 2006’s roof from closing, and which activated the auto-reversal on the 2013 in the avatar. (They showed me the proper way to clean the tracks and how to re-apply the grease in the track when finished, so I’m aware of how to prevent further issues.)

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @smapdi: “What I DO see this extending to are thick pillars. If they could work a screen onto each pillar that would help a lot with visibility issues.”

      Thumbs up on that one. Those thick pillars are getting to the point that they can completely hide an approaching car or pedestrian at an intersection, the steep angle notwithstanding. We may need to go back to 50s and 60s-vintage wraparound windshields.

      • 0 avatar
        cognoscenti

        “Those thick pillars are getting to the point that they can completely hide an approaching car or pedestrian at an intersection”

        This. I let my sister drive the 2013 Camaro SS I had as a rental while visiting her, and we almost got into a crash because the angle of left-hand turn onto a boulevard allowed the right side A-pillar to COMPLETELY obscure an oncoming vehicle from her vision.

  • avatar
    Gedrven

    While not dangerous (unlike massive A-pillars, touchscreen controls, or most Driver Incompetence Compensators), this deserves all the mockery it can get. What’s next, virtual windshields? How about we all just sit at home on the couch and drive virtual cars around a virtual world, eating virtual food and going out on hot dates with virtual people? Or for the ultimate risk-free virtual experience, just skip a few steps and take a lethal overdose of DMT? No warranty claims for leaks there!

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