Toyota Developing 'Virtual Sunroof' For Future Models?
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.
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.
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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.
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!