Can smartphone apps fix our cars?

Most car owners are familiar with that sinking feeling of signing off a huge bill at the end of a repair or servicing job.  Although mechanics have always been the first point of call whenever we experience any car troubles, the complex technologies used in modern vehicles mean that even they might not be able recognise the assortment of components that make up car engines.

Augmented reality to help car servicing

Under the bonnet of today and almost certainly tomorrow’s vehicles lies an array of sensors, computers and safety devices.  To help mechanics cope with the ever changing car technology, carmaker BMW has come up with the idea of using augmented reality glasses to provide enhanced images of vehicle components.

Augmented reality images are basically produced by overlaying computer-generated pictures, sounds, or other data on a real-world environment.  In the case of a mechanic examining the engine of a vehicle, when he looks at it with augmented reality glasses, he sees components highlighted in different colours which help him to identify them.  He is then given instructions on what components to look into and how to dissemble them.

BMW is not the only carmaker looking to make use of this type of technology for servicing vehicles.  For example, Volkswagen employs the Mobile Augmented Reality Technical Assistant App (MARTA) to service its XL1 model.  Additionally, Audi has also released a mobile phone app in Europe which can identify over 200 elements on the inside of a car; it delivers detailed information on whatever car component the camera is aiming at.

Car maintenance at home

These sophisticated apps are not just for mechanics, they can also be used for small maintenance jobs carried out by drivers themselves.  For example, if a light appears on your dashboard when you are driving, you can point your smartphone camera at it so that your smartphone app can decipher what the problem is and give you step by step instructions on how to fix it.  Although these apps won’t replace a trip to the garage for major repairs or servicing jobs, it will save you from costs incurred on minor maintenance.

Augmented reality views    

Apart from helping mechanics, carmakers are also trying to incorporate augmented reality views on their vehicles.  Currently, British auto firm Land Rover is developing the concept of a transparent bonnet for its vehicles, using grille cameras to create the illusion that the front of the car is effectively see-through.  It is hoped that the added visibility will help drivers deal with the terrain and obstacles underneath the car.

Mercedes-Benz wants to go one step further in its vision of the future of driving, by combining augmented reality technology with gesture controlled features.  So if you drive past a restaurant, simply point your finger at it and hologram style information will come up on your windscreen about whether there are any tables available.  You can even make a reservation with the click of a finger.

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?  Just what will they think of next?