Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Imaging windshield to aid older drivers

WARREN, Mich. - When a stronger eyeglass prescription just won't cut it for safe driving, a futuristic windshield might do the trick.

Researchers at General Motors Corp. are working on a windshield that combines lasers, infrared sensors, and a camera to enhance the view of what's happening on the road so aging drivers with vision problems can see more clearly.

GM's new windshield will make objects stand out that otherwise could go unnoticed.

The developers say the technology is enhancing just a few objects that are already in a driver's view, not splashing distracting information onto the glass.

For example, in foggy conditions, a laser projects a blue line onto the windshield that follows the edge of the road. Or if infrared sensors detect a person or animal in the driver's path at night, its location is highlighted on the windshield. The images are possible because of a transparent coating on the windshield that lights up when struck by ultraviolet light.

The windshield is designed specifically for older drivers, who have vision problems at a much higher rate than other age groups.

Currently, 12.4 percent of the population is 65 or older, but by 2030, that proportion is projected to jump to 20 percent, or 71.5 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"They're not only the fastest growing group of drivers on the road in the U.S., but they are driving more miles per year than previous generations," said Cynthia Owsley, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

"This has enormous implications for road safety in our country," said Ms. Owsley, who has worked on the windshield's design.

Nick Cappa, a spokesman for Chrysler LLC, said that company is also working on such windshield technologies, but he declined to provide details. Alan Hall, a spokesman for Ford Motor Co., said that automaker didn't have any similar plans.

Nancy Thompson, a spokesman for AARP, said she believes drivers heading toward old age will embrace the technology.

Ms. Owsley, who has researched vision in drivers for 15 years, is running focus groups to interview aging drivers about the issues they face, and said there's a common theme: "Older adults are like adults of all ages. They want to drive."

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