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The auto industry is head over heels for VR

“The best way [to improve] would be to go with HoloLens,” Kantereit said, laughing. He said it’s a better way because you can overlay information in the real world through a transparent screen, keeping people from feeling isolated. He’s seen how it can be a boon for the company already: Mercedes has used HoloLens to train repair technicians. Since the first portion of the experience was just laying factoids over various touch points, AR seems like a more natural fit.

Honda, then, made the right choice in showing up with Microsoft’s AR headset to show off its new Accord in “HondaLens.” The 2018 sedan sat in the middle of a gated pavilion, and once I donned the headset, I was shown a timeline covering the Accord’s 42-year history, narrated by a disembodied female voice. Information floated in front of me as I moved around the car. When I sat behind the wheel, purple, pink and blue holograms laid out traffic in front of me, showing off the vehicle’s speed-sensing capabilities and HUD.

The same female voice offered instructions and information on how to pair my phone to the Accord’s new infotainment system and pointed out the increased passenger legroom while I sat shotgun. All told, it took just over 10 minutes to see everything Honda had to offer. The drawback? HoloLens’ narrow field of view. If I tilted my head too much one way or another, the holograms would cut off abruptly. When everything was working properly, however, it felt futuristic.

Charles Koch, manager of shows and exhibits for Honda and Acura, said that HoloLens is a natural extension of all of the electronics being packed into modern cars. Meaning that all the infotainment and autonomous systems are getting to the point where it’s easier to use tech to explain them than it is to read the owner’s manual or a sales brochure. If Honda and developer Spinifex can come up with a simple way to put HondaLens in dealerships, the pair will do it. That’s right: Automakers aren’t just bringing concept cars to auto shows anymore; they’re bringing concept sales tools too.

Volkswagen leaned hard on VR, using a Vive with a LeapMotion stuck to the front of it and a shell of its ID Crozz to show off the autonomous concept’s capabilities. The first part of the demo was a virtual showroom experience, but instead of using a Vive wand or gaze tracking, I used my hand to “open” the car’s driver-side door and examined the interior before taking the headset off. After that, I walked to the passenger side and donned another Vive and a pair of Beats headphones for a virtual test drive.

After I sat down and booth attendants manhandled a Vive onto my head, I was joined by a virtual companion who reminded me an awful lot of Ryan Gosling’s virtual girlfriend from Blade Runner 2049. The outlines of her body shimmered and shifted, flickering in and out of focus, and she had a familiar, almost therapeutic lilt to her voice. She served as a guide, telling me where to look and what I could interact with, like the panoramic sunroof, ambient light colors and music. And because she was right there with me in VR, I didn’t feel taken out of the experience.

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