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'See-through' back seat could prevent fender benders

Prototype system developed by Japanese researchers makes the rear seat appear transparent.

By Douglas Newcomb Oct 15, 2012 12:44PM

Sede-Through Prius. Image courtesy of Keio University.Harry Potter may have had an invisibility cloak, but Japanese researchers have made the back seat of a Prius disappear into thin air.

A team at Keio University in Japan has come up with an “invisibility system” that lets drivers see through the back of the car when reversing.

The technology uses a regular backup camera for a view behind the vehicle, and a projector to display the image on the back seat. Here’s where the magic happens: The researchers created a rear-seat surface made up of thousands of “retroreflective beads” that pick up the light from the projector, showing what’s behind the car and making it look transparent. 

“The driver will feel like he’s driving a glass car,” said Masahiko Inamione, one of the developers, who then quoted futurist and sci-fi author Sir Arthur C. Clarke. "[He] said, 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' I want to develop technology like magic that general people can use easily in the future.”

The underlying technology has been around for a decade, but it has become more feasible since the cost of small video cameras and related technologies have dropped. Although the researchers developed a prototype “see-through Toyota Prius” that will display the technology at the 2012 Digital Content Expo in Tokyo at the end of October, don’t look for it to be available any time soon.

But with a pending U.S. government mandate and safety advocates calling for increased rear visibility using rear-view cameras, a see-through back seat could someday be more like reality than magic.

[Source: Wired]

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