Virtual Reality in the Automotive Industry

Photo : Toptal

Despite some rough years, the automotive industry is still one of the most important economic sectors. Car manufacturers are continuously trying to put the current technologies to use in order to deliver the best vehicles. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technology is advancing rapidly as computers are becoming more powerful. The market of AR/VR has already become a billion-dollar market and it’s projected to keep growing well beyond a $120 billion market within a few years.

At the low-end of the VR market, Google blogged that their Cardboard has already shipped over 10 million units. It upgrades one’s smartphone to a VR viewer. They also distributed over 160 million apps for them. That’s not all, though, since third-party solutions are available as well. As for the more complete commercial products, Sony reported that almost a million units of their Playstation VR headset were sold.

And then there’s the automotive industry. We already laid out the growing market of app development for Car Infotainment Systems which is projected to exceed $35 billion by the end of the decade. With AR/VR becoming more mainstream, developers can also start moving it into your car. Creative minds will have an opportunity to conquer some of that market with new AR/VR apps.

Also, autonomous driving is on the verge of becoming commercialized. Carmakers are racing to develop a self-driving car that is good enough to release to the public and unleash on our roads. Last year, Google’s self-driving Waymo car drove an average of 5,000 miles on its own before requiring human intervention. This data is available because companies testing in California are required to make their driving data public to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Autonomous driving again opens up cars to become a much more interactive environment.

To connect the two fields, this article will discuss examples of AR/VR in the automotive industry. It will outline how AR/VR technology is helping the automotive industry deliver high-quality services and improve products. The examples will range from the industry side all the way to consumers, and VR developers, obviously.

Virtual Reality Showrooms

Typically, when you start exploring the market for a new car, you need to visit a dealership. They usually display a few models and often don’t even have the color you’re looking for. Now imagine a VR environment. Within it, you’re able to customize any make or model in exactly the way you’re going to buy it. You’ll be able to walk around it and step into the driver seat. With the development of quality VR headsets, this technology can be brought to any showroom, and it needn’t cost a fortune, either!

Audi is rolling out this technology for their cars with the Audi VR experience. They may soon also start offering pre-recorded virtual test rides so you can have the experience of driving the car. This also makes it possible to let your customers see future products. For example Toyota utilized ZeroLight VR to virtually launch their new C-HR car. Even if the physical version does not exist yet, everybody can still experience what it will be like to have one.

Used-car dealerships such as Vroom are adopting this technology to showcase their available assortment remotely. It can be costly to physically bring products to your customers just for demonstration purposes. Using a VR replacement makes it that much more affordable. Likewise, there’s a limit to how far your customers are willing to travel. To see a VR version of the product or experience a virtual ride, they don’t need to travel as far; sometimes, they can see your goods from the comfort of their own home. It also makes it easier for you to present more than one of your products in the same amount of time.

The great thing about VR is that it allows you to show your consumers the future. It makes perfect sense for automotive marketing, as consumers often buy cars built to their own specs months before they actually roll off the assembly line.

With a virtual reality showroom, vendors can demonstrate how a paint job will look on someone’s dream car, or how a set of bigger alloys will fit the new look. Want to convince someone to do an interior upgrade? Or maybe you do car customization? Using AR, your customer can experience what their own car is going to be like after the customization.

This shows the very real impact AR/VR can have on a company’s sales process and business model. Similar showroom solutions could apply to many other industries. Let’s go over a few examples:

  • Traditionally, real estate agents face the problem of having to bring the potential customer to the property in order to provide a realistic impression of what it looks like. Virtual Reality changes that process entirely.
  • If it works for cars, it works for boats, recreational vehicles, light planes, and just about any other vehicle you can imagine.
  • You could experience a hotel room in virtual reality before booking it. Expedia is already working on that.
  • Travel agencies can immerse you in a location before you choose if you want to go there. And with AR, they could also provide you with a cheap digital tour guide. VR can even replace travel in the form of eTourism. Virtual Reality in Tourism provides a lot of information that can be used by tourists and the industry alike.
  • Need to choose a seat at an event venue or stadium? VR gives you the real perspective from your seat. Rukkus sells tickets this way. Airlines can use the same approach to demonstrate different classes and seats available in their airliners.
  • Buying a new dress or tux? Using AR, you could try on many choices without a hassle. This ease will make you try options you would never try in the real world. In VR, you could virtually attend that fancy party while trying on your new look. Or better yet, you could be at that picturesque dream location while picking your wedding dresses.
  • Imagine shopping for a nice new carpet and immediately seeing how it matches your furniture and “ties the room together” in AR. Houzz offers this shopping experience with their app. Amazon is considering such technology too.
  • What about more drastic changes to your interior? IKEA is doing VR for kitchens, while Lowes has a Holoroom to design your entire interior.

There is obviously a lot of potential in these and many more industries, but for now, let’s get back to automotive.

Safety of Self-driving Cars

Probably the biggest technological milestone in the automotive industry is currently the self-driving car. Progress towards this is being made steadily, and, over the past years, several public trials have been launched. Naturally, a major concern is the safety of such autonomous vehicles. The research and development (R&D) for it is an incredibly complex process as the car needs to be able to handle any situation.

Testing software that controls the vehicle can be aided by VR technology. Obviously, the car doesn’t wear a VR headset and doesn’t have to be driven around town for testing. Instead, its sensors are replaced by data streams simulated in VR. Think of it as VR car driving brought to the next level.

Virtual Reality Self Driving Cars


I used to work at TASS International, where I helped develop a traffic simulation platform call PreScan. Its purpose is exactly that, to help car manufacturers develop and test their cars. Such a platform ties in with a broad spectrum of technologies and techniques: interactive editing, importing of databases and datasets, generation and transformation of 3D geometry, high-performance distributed parallel computation, 3D visualization, 3D dynamics, and modeling of physical phenomena.

So how does this help the testing process? Here’s how:

Test coverage should be high even though there are infinitely many traffic scenarios that a car may encounter. The primary way to increase coverage is by “driving” for as many hours as possible. Ideally, all that driving should be done for every new release of a car and even for subsequent software updates. All this driving makes for a slow process. Simulating the tests in VR can be much faster because parallelizing it just means adding more computers that also run simulations.

In a single night of testing, the software can be “test-driven” for thousands of hours.

Corner cases in testing a vehicle tend to be dangerous or costly. Is a laden truck able to avoid a pedestrian? How does the car respond if it’s hit at full speed by another vehicle? It’s easy to see that doing the same test in a VR auto simulator removes any risk of injuring people or damaging expensive resources.

Tests should be repeatable. From a software development perspective, this is obvious and, in many domains, fairly straightforward. In the physical world, it’s much less so. Want to know how a car responds under a certain set of weather conditions? Or on roads that are not available near the R&D site? Recreating specific physical conditions is hard and expensive, whereas in VR it’s a relatively simple matter of configuring the virtual world.

This article was originally posted on Toptal.
Total is an American tech freelancing community. Nerdynaut and Toptal has an article publishing partnership.
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Virtual Reality in the Automotive Industry
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