Using some relatively inexpensive and readily available technology you can find at any well-stocked electronics store, Alaina Gassler, a 14-year-old inventor from West Grove, Pennsylvania, came up with a clever way to eliminate the blind spot created by the thick pillars on the side of a car’s windshield.
Gassler’s actually too young to have a driver’s licence in most states and has never experienced the frustration of trying to see around those pillars while driving, but that didn’t stop her from tackling a problem that automakers have largely ignored. Her solution involves installing an outward-facing webcam on the outside of a vehicle’s windshield pillar, and then projecting a live feed from that camera onto the inside of that pillar. Custom 3D-printed parts allowed her to perfectly align the projected image so that it seamlessly blends with what a driver sees through the passenger window and the windshield, essentially making the pillar invisible.
Her invention was part of a project called “Improving Automobile Safety by Removing Blind Spots,” which Gassler presented at this year’s Society for Science and the Public’s Broadcom MASTERS (Maths, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars) science and engineering competition. (It’s basically a next-level science fair minus the cheesy papier-mâché volcanoes.) Her ingenuity was enough to earn her the competition’s top honour, the Samueli Foundation Prize, which also netted Gassler $US25,000 ($36,294).
Gassler’s invention isn’t quite ready to be installed in vehicles across the country just yet, but the technologies already exist that would allow it to be implemented in cars without serving as a distraction to the driver. Short-throw projectors could be installed at the base of the passenger side windshield pillar to create the image without having to worry about the passenger blocking the beam. And many cars have already replaced side mirrors with cameras, or include nearly invisible cameras in the rear for safely backing up, so adding one more on the side of the pillar would presumably be trivial.
Yes, the feature would add more to a vehicle’s price tag, and if actually offered as an option, carmakers would undoubtedly sell it as a premium upgrade. But it wouldn’t take long for the technology to get cheaper and eventually become a standard feature that drivers would wonder how they ever safely navigated roads without.