Back in the days of sky-high tailfins and wraparound windshields, A-pillars weren’t of sufficient thickness to hide little Timmy riding his bike, or maybe that Ford Fairlane approaching from behind that shrub to your left. No, front seat vision was grand — trying to stop your Detroit barge with unassisted drums brakes was the real challenge.
These days, the high-strength steel and airbags needed for rollover and side-impact protection have turned those slim pillars into Corinthian columns capable of hiding a small crowd. A-Pillars are bulky, and that’s a safety problem in itself.
What to do? In Toyota’s case, simply develop a way of seeing through them.
According to a patent application filed to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by Toyota’s American engineering arm, the automaker hopes to give drivers a way of seeing past those intrusive beams. No, Toyota isn’t patenting honeycomb pillars. (That apparently Genesis’ job.)
Toyota’s plan is to have light bend around the pillar, thus making it disappear from view. Freaky stuff, but not the time-bending pseudo-science of Philadelphia Experiment folklore. The “cloaking device” in the company’s patent uses a far simpler and cheaper solution: carefully arranged mirrors.
By reflecting what’s behind the A-pillar onto the interior surface of the pillar, the obstruction all but vanishes, leaving the driver looking at little Timmy or that errant Fairlane instead. Toyota explains it a far more technical, albeit confusing way:
A cloaking device includes cloaking region boundary planes oriented non-planar to each other, each of the cloaking region boundary plans having an outward facing mirror surface and an outward facing opaque surface. The cloaking device includes a cloaking region bounded at least partially by the inward facing opaque surfaces of the cloaking region boundary planes. Half mirrors are spaced apart and generally parallel to the outward facing mirror surfaces such that a half mirror is spaced apart and generally parallel to each outward facing mirror surface. Light from an object on an object-side of the cloaking device is directed around an article within the cloaking region and forms an image on an image-side of the cloaking device such the article appears transparent to an observer looking towards the object.
The patent application describes the cloaking device as a cost-conscious alternative to pricey video display technology under development by other automakers. Presumably, the mirrored surfaces wouldn’t interfere with the pillar-mounted airbag.
Whether or not we’ll see these see-through pillars in a future Toyota or Lexus vehicle remains to be seen (or not, ha ha), so for now we’ll have to be content with the above drawing.