Alaina Gassler is the sort of kid that, were my parents have heard of her when I was growing up, would have caused an immediate and unflattering comparison between myself and her, with lots of glancing back and forth between me, on the floor losing at some Atari game, and whatever newspaper article or TV segment about her and her accomplishments. It would have ended with a dejected sigh of resignation from my parents, their disappointment a tangible miasma in the room. That’s because Gassler does things like developing a very clever blind-spot removal system for cars.
You know how modern cars have really chonky A-pillars, crammed full of airbags and stout structural supports? Sure, they’re great in the event of a wreck, but they’re lousy at helping prevent wrecks in the first place because their sheer size blocks a sizable chunk of your visibility.
That’s what Gassler’s project was attempting to solve. Using a webcam, a projector, and some retroreflective projector screen material, Gassler rigged up a system that used the camera to capture the missing visual area blocked by the pillar and project it back, aligned to its proper location, onto the pillar itself.
Here’s a video showing how effective it actually is:
That is remarkably good! In order to get the sunroof-mounted projector to display clearly at that close a range, Gassler had to design and 3D print a special part to get it to focus properly.
For her efforts, Gassler deservedly won the $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize, awarded by the Broadcom MASTERS science and engineering competition.
Since I don’t see A-pillars getting any thinner in the future, this could prove to be a viable bit of tech in upcoming cars. It’s possible that LCD displays might even be cheaper than projectors in quantity, and the same basic idea could be accomplished with tall, narrow LCD screens mounted to the A-pillar as well. Either could be effective.
This is a clever and straightforward solution to a genuine issue, and I think it’s one that could see implementation on real cars in the future.
Bang-up job, Alaina! I’d also like to award you the Jalopnik Hey That’s A Good Idea Award for innovation in Automotive Doohickeys, which is an old BMW taillight I have here, and a firm yet clammy handshake.
You’ll have to come pick it up, though.