3D technology is poised to transform the driving experience, for motorists and passengers alike. An in-car navigation system, for instance, can use 3D to present an intuitive “bird’s eye” view of the road ahead or to display an accurate rendering of local buildings and landmarks. Either way, motorists can find their way through unfamiliar streets and towns with unprecedented ease and confidence. Meanwhile, backseat infotainment systems can use widely adopted 3D APIs to support a variety of popular videogame titles—perfect for keeping kids (or adult passengers who think they’re still kids) occupied on long trips.

The allure of 3D hasn’t been lost on automakers and Tier 1 auto suppliers. Already, several have introduced, or plan to introduce, navigation systems based on 3D technology. In fact, many of these companies believe the “coolness factor” of 3D interfaces will help drive market demand for such systems, especially among early adopters and younger buyers.

The adoption of 3D interfaces among auto suppliers may seem surprising, at first. After all, 3D has traditionally required far too much memory and processing power to run on the low-cost computing platforms deployed in the car. The situation is changing, however, thanks to two recent developments: the availability of automotive-grade chipsets that offer 3D acceleration and the emergence of a lightweight graphics API called OpenGL ES.