Continental’s Virtual A Pillar Eliminates Forward Blind Spots

The camera and display system is designed to address a growing visibility problem on vehicles that need widened front pillars to meet mandatory safety test standards.

By Murray Slovick, Contributing Editor

The need to design cars that can meet mandatory rollover safety testing and rigorous federal roof-crush standards has led to increasingly thick pillars to support the roof. (In sedans, generally speaking, there are four: A-pillars, at the front of the car anchor the windshield and the beginning foundation of the vehicle’s roof; B-pillars that sit between the front and rear doors; and C-pillars that support the rear window.)

These larger A-pillars have been identified as visual obstructions—blind spots—for the driver. This trend poses an increased hazard to pedestrians and vulnerable road users who are easily obscured from the driver’s view.

The width of the A-pillar varies between models. In some situations, depending on the pillar’s width, a linear distance of over 36 inches can end up being obstructed at just 12 feet from the pillar. This increases substantially as the distance from the vehicle grows. As a result, the design of the A-pillar is an important factor when trying to increase the driver’s forward field of view.

The Continental Virtual A-Pillar displays an image of the vehicle’s exterior environment, enabling the driver to “see through” the A-pillar. (Click to view animation)

Last week, Continental unveiled a Virtual A-Pillar to help remove forward blind spots by tracking the driver’s movements and displaying an image of the vehicle’s exterior environment on interior OLED displays, enabling the driver to “see through” the A-pillar (Fig. 1). Continental pairs its interior camera and integrated OLED displays in the vehicle’s A-pillar for increased visibility and safety—an experience said to be more like looking through an extended “window” rather than at a live video feed (Fig. 2).

By tracking the driver’s head movements paired with the exterior live image, the Virtual A-Pillar gives the driver an experience more like looking through an extended “window” rather than at a live video feed.

Since drivers are accustomed to compensating for lack of forward vision by adjusting their position while driving, the Continental Virtual A-Pillar tracks these movements using an interior camera mounted just above the steering wheel. At the same time, Continental’s Surround View camera, mounted on the vehicle’s exterior, feeds a live video of the vehicle’s external environment to the OLED displays embedded in the A-pillars.

“This new technology allows the driver to see pedestrians and other vehicles approaching from the left and right, which would have otherwise been blocked by the A-pillar,” says Dr. Karsten Michels, head of Systems & Technology in the Interior division at Continental. “With the advancements of camera and display technology,” Michels adds, “Continental’s Virtual A-Pillar allows the driver to maintain a direct line of sight when turning left or right, providing additional safety for cyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.”

At the moment, Continental’s Virtual A-Pillar is just a proof of concept. The company didn’t say when or if its new technology will be available to automakers.

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