Blind spots have been a persistent safety issue for automobiles for decades. A new invention from a Pennsylvania teenager may have cracked the problem.
3M, Siemens, Hitachi. We imagine innovations in engineering come from the folks in white lab coats, taking notes on their clip boards, recording the results of the latest experiment performed in sterile “clean” rooms packed with lasers and pressurized chambers. Or, equally likely, innovations emerge from some subbasement where servers drone and nerds in hoodies hunch over keyboards running and re-running complex computer simulations ad infinitum. But many actual innovations are borne of inquisitive minds, Leonardo DaVinci and Benjamin Franklin were first and foremost seekers. So too is the inventor of a major break through in automotive safety technology, Aliana Glasser, 14, of West Grove, Pennsylvania.
Glasser was this year’s winner of the Samueli Foundation Prize, the top prize of the Broadcom MASTERS®, the biggest STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) competition for middle-schoolers in the country. The $25,000 grand prize was awarded to Glasser for her development of a blind-spot elimination device.
For all the latest safety tech that’s been coming out lately, OEM engineers have yet to solve one of the biggest issues, blind spots. Sure, you’ve got rearward blind spot detection warnings and some systems providing automatic breaking. Other systems even have cameras projecting the blind spot image into the instrument cluster a la the Kia Telluride. But all of these are basically work-arounds. They still require diverting the driver’s attention from the road. And none of these address the blind spot created by your A-pillar.
Rather than asking how to work around this blind spot, Glasser asked, what if there were no A-pillars at all? Her innovation comes in the form of a camera, a tiny projector, and some reflective projector screen material. With this set up what would otherwise be obscured by the A-pillar is instead projected directly onto the A-pillar, effectively making it “see-through”. You can see it in action below.
According to reporting from Popular Mechanics, Glasser says she plans to sell her idea for “ghost pillars” rather than start her own company, hinting that a forward-looking company like Tesla might be a good fit. She intends to build upon the current proof-of-concept by developing a version using LCDs (liquid crystal displays) that would work effectively regardless of lighting conditions.
Girls won all five of the top prizes at this year’s Broadcom MASTERS® which pulled from a pool of 80,000 participants and 300 affiliated science fairs.
Glasser’s idea looks like a genuine breakthrough and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it added to the list of high-tech safety features we take for granted on our cars.