How often do your fog lights genuinely improve visibility, anyway?
Beyond their aesthetic appeal, fog lights are designed to increase visibility in foggy or dusty conditions, but the extremely short range of their beam still means that most of the time, they don't significantly improve visibility. Rear-facing fog lights are perhaps more useful, as they are far brighter than regular taillights and can make it much easier to spot a preceding vehicle in conditions with obscured visibility. As for regular headlights, well, they're more advanced than ever, but to tangibly improve visibility for drivers in dusty or foggy conditions, Microsoft has filed a new patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It's described as "AR glasses with predictive control of external device based on event input." Let's break that down a bit.
In simpler terms, the technology would make use of augmented reality by assessing the environment ahead of the vehicle, processing those images, and then displaying a more discernible image for the driver. Special AR glasses could be worn for this clearer image reproduction, but it's possible for the tech to use a head-up display as well. AR tech is already being used for more effective head-up displays by Panasonic, while Mercedes uses a similar system in the latest S-Class flagship luxury sedan.
But while Panasonic and Mercedes' systems still rely primarily on a clear view up ahead, Microsoft's system actually aims to enhance that view to specifically tackle low-visibility conditions.
It would take more space than we have here to delve into Microsoft's full 235-page patent filing, but the gist of it is a "head-mounted eyepiece with an integrated processor for handling content for display". Although the content - or 'enhanced' picture of the road ahead - could be displayed on any screen, it wouldn't make sense to project this onto the infotainment screen as nobody should ever drive with their eyes not focused ahead. The eyepiece solves this immediate issue. The tech could also come into effect if driving through smoke, a less common but potentially dangerous scenario. As with many patents, it could be ages before we see the innovation find its way into new vehicles, but anything that improves safety is worth investing in.