The Car Sun Visor Just Went from Dumb to Very, Very Smart
Visibility is improved by some 90 percent compared to traditional visors, says Bosch.
Back in 1924 a fellow named Hathaway invented the first sun visor, or "glare shield" in his words, which mounted to the outside of a Ford Model T. The visor as we know it moved inside in 1931 and has since developed some new modes of swinging, pivoting, and sliding, but it's still a pretty blunt instrument in that it still blocks way more view than it does sun. Still, NHTSA data attributes sun glare to causing nearly twice as many accidents as the next nearest weather phenomenon (!). At the 2020 CES conference, Bosch is proposing the first truly high-tech improvement to this nonagenarian concept.
Instead of an opaque panel that totally blocks the driver's view or a tinted panel that doesn't completely obscure the painful glare of direct sunlight, Bosch is proposing a clear screen with hexagonal opaque LCD segments that function like a well-placed hand blocking only the direct path between the sun and the driver's eyes.
Dubbed Virtual Visor, this 2020 CES Innovation Award-winning concept utilizes an occupant-monitoring camera to determine facial landmarks (eyes, nose, and mouth) and to identify shadows on the face. An algorithm using artificial intelligence then causes the segments of the LCD screen to darken, shading only the area around the driver's eyes and tracking their position as the head or vehicle move relative to the sun. Visibility through the visor is thereby improved by some 90 percent, while the rest of the visor retains the transparency of a pair of polarized sunglasses (with polarization aligned to match that of sunglasses). Note that the system is not designed to work with other bright light sources lacking the sun's contrast ratio.
These LCD segment hexagons measure 18mm across (and roughly 1 cm per side). This shape is more efficient than squares, allowing fewer segments to effectively shade the eyes and more of the visor to remain transparent. Obviously, the resolution is vastly lower and the screen several orders of magnitude simpler/cheaper than that of an LCD TV or computer monitor. The power draw is minimal, the total system mass is expected to be roughly equal to or just slightly more than that of a traditional opaque visor, and crash performance is expected to be equivalent.
Because it's usually mostly clear, the Virtual Visor could be made larger than today's visors, but it's still expected to be able to swivel down and over to the side; there, operation will depend on the camera's overall field of view "seeing" the outboard edge of the driver's face well enough to compute the coverage area. Company officials stonewalled our every nuanced attempt to coax some idea of the system's cost, outright or relative to current visors or to other ADAS or infotainment systems, but clearly that incremental cost will be lower in vehicles that already include an occupant-recognition camera. Speaking of which, it must be of the RGB visible-light type. Infrared cameras don't work as well, which is why the occupant-monitoring types are required, rather than the driver-attention-monitoring IR type, which merely track eye gaze.
Virtual Visor is still under development, and Bosch is at CES marketing the concept to original-equipment manufacturers, not aftermarket sellers. If you're wondering whether an entire windshield or side glass could be pixelated as a Virtual Visor, it can't because the system fails to dark, not clear. And even if that problem were solved, its clear transparency isn't likely to ever meet standards for a windshield. Watch for it in three to five years—maybe fewer if Tesla bites.