For those who have been driving for a while, it's hard to keep from stepping on the brake pedal or from grabbing the steering wheel now and then when you're in vehicle loaded with autonomous technology, even on a test track when you know what's going to happen. That's where augmented reality (AR) — promising since the heyday of Google Glass and now taking various different forms — may be the bridge that helps drivers accept self-driving vehicles, a global consultancy predicts.

ABI Research has some big expectations for AR technology, including that it "will redefine the driving and ownership experience" of vehicles by giving drivers helpful information like highlighting pedestrians or obstacles in the roadway. In time, drivers will come to appreciate and trust the assistance, helping set the stage for vehicles that'll drive themselves. That's the theory at least, but the key variable for AR going forward is how it's delivered.

Unlike virtual reality, which shows and lets the user interact with a fully artificial, computer-generated "world," AR tech gives the user a layered image or supplemental information on top of actual reality. It's typically provided via smart glasses or head-up displays, or HUDs, and that latter form is how ABI expects augmented reality will catch fire.

"I do think augmented reality is going to be big" in vehicles, Dominique Bonte, ABI's managing director and vice president for B2B, told Fleet Owner. With HUDs, "there are several ways to do it," he added. "Either it's a glass plate on top of your dashboard where you can display navigation and other types of instructions, or it's a laser type of technology that displays information directly on the windscreen.

"But it's still only on a small area," Bonte continued. "Maybe further down the road, we could imagine that the entire windscreen would be used to display information like obstacle detections and other things."

ABI Research predicts that by 2025, some 15 million AR HUDs for vehicles will ship, with 11 million of those being embedded systems.

CNET's Brian Cooley, for one, contends that traditional automotive gauges and instruments themselves actually are a distraction forcing drivers to look away from the road and don't make much logical sense.

The potential applications clearly are there, and AR technology has been filtering into the mainstream in various ways for some time. There are still hurdles, though, for AR HUDs to make a true breakthrough in vehicles, according to ABI Research, and it boils down to a very similar situation to that of autonomous vehicles — things like better accuracy and "no matter what" reliability.

"These [technological challenges] include how to capture and interpret road geometry through computing-intensive sensor function, precise vehicle positioning, laser projection, driver monitoring via inward-facing cameras, and designing sophisticated algorithms to generate precise augmentation content in the viewing field of the driver," ABI's Bonte stated.

For additional discussion of the potential for, and the challenges to, AR technology, see the full story on