Showrooms go Car-less, Drive the VR Route

Mission Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol; Back to the Future 2; I, Robot; Minority Report – there’s one common thread binding them all – Augmented Reality technology pervading automobiles. MI IV brought in a BMW i8 Concept car, powered the windshield with an interface to navigate through the city replete with direction markers. Back to the Future 2 had the BMW 733i in its AR line up. I, Robot had an Audi RSQ which provides driver assistance through its AR windshield. Minority Report used an augmented reality heads-up display interface to toggle between multiple windows consisting different information.

Automobiles have always formed an integral part of deploying augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies. Futuristic and sci-fi films have been an important driver of these technologies, especially when showcasing crucial scenes that need to be shot in travelling vehicles. AR has been a favored technology as it is easily layered over an existing real environment – on a car windshield for instance in the automotive segment.

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Leveraging on this cinematic experience, several automobile manufacturers are cashing in on the AR/VR experience to enhance customer delight within a showroom. Automobile showrooms are increasingly incorporating AR & VR technologies to provide customers with an interactive interface before experiencing a test drive on the roads.

The AR/VR interface allows customers to explore the features of a car within the confines of the showroom itself. These applications may either be installed in a smartphone, tablet or in a device owned by the showroom. When a customer points the device towards a particular part of the car, the application overlays all information about that part of the car over the vehicle’s body. It may also allow customers to interact by touching arrow overlays to trigger facts, images and videos of specific parts of the vehicle.

Patent share of major players in the VR for Automobiles space.

Patent share of major players in the VR for Automobile showroom space.

Who’s making the cut?

Audi applied augment reality technology in Audi City London, the company’s first ever digital showroom in the world. This showroom allows customers to browse an electronic catalog; they can select from car models, change colors, alloys and can even hear how the car sounds on a road.

Land Rover Discovery Sport can now be viewed in 3D, with customers empowered to explore the vehicle using an AR headset. Customers can walk around the vehicle and view a multitude of animations from different points on the vehicle to visualize the vehicle’s features.

This figure from Jaguar Land Rover patent US20150278999A1 portrays a customer using a tablet for viewing vehicle interior features

Figure 10 from Jaguar Land Rover’s patent US20150278999A1 describes a method for a customer to use a tablet to view a vehicle’s interiors.

Land Rover owns a patent US20150278999A1 which describes a method for real world interactions between a user and vehicle in a car dealer ship environment. It describes a three dimensional simulation of a vehicle that can be viewed using a tablet. The simulation can be animated so that interaction with the simulated object is arranged to mimic a real world response.

Mercedes-Benz also offers 3D AR experience to customers with the help of an iPad app. The app displays animations related to vehicle features such as intelligent light assist, collision prevention assist and the aerodynamic design of the vehicle.

In its German patent application DE102014005983A1, Daimler (the parent company of Mercedes-Benz) describes a method to display vehicle information alongside a real image of the vehicle on a Smartphone display.

DE102014005983A1

Daimler’s patent DE102014005983A1 portrays features of a vehicle on a smart phone display.

Showrooms without cars

That’s right. While some showrooms overlay information over vehicles, here are a few that are doing away with the concept of having physical cars cluttering around their floors. Take for instance Vroom’s dynamic virtual reality car showroom. The online car retailer leverages VR technology to help its customers experience a three-dimensional image of the vehicle in its showroom. They can enjoy a virtual test drive, procure information related to the vehicle and experience real vehicle engine sounds without having to visit a dealership until they’ve made the purchase choice.

Audi is treading a similar path. It presented the AUDI VR experience at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit where the company showcased its ability to help customers virtually experience their choice of Audi vehicles using a VR headset. Audi has also applied for a patent for this technology. Its application DE102014010309A1 describes a method to generate graphic data representing the virtual object (vehicle) in a virtual space on the display of a VR headset.

Audi’s patent DE102014010309A1 displays graphic data on a VR headset display

Audi’s patent DE102014010309A1 displays graphic data on a VR headset display.

Evox Image recently created a relay car app featuring cars that are available to view in a VR environment. The app helps dealers guide customers and by allowing them to sit in the driver’s seat of any car from an expansive VR image database. The app provides extensive car detailing to the customer through stereoscopic exterior spins and 360° interiors.

An individual patentee from China, Luo Yi, describes an interesting aspect of this technology in his patent application CN103479138A. In this publication, Yi describes an interactive virtual reality car show platform where real cars are shown through virtual reality scenes. This enhances customers’ driving experience under multiple road conditions and uncommon weather conditions, while reducing the test drive cost and risks to vehicles.

Patent publication CN103479138A describes a virtual reality car show platform.

Patent CN103479138A describes a virtual reality car show platform.

The smartphone revolution has come as a perfect precursor to VR and AR technology. It is encouraging consumers to adapt to a new way of shopping, with haptic feedback becoming an integral part of the entire experience of customer delight.

(Featured image is for representational purpose alone. Image has been sourced from https://www.flickr.com/photos/koreanet/30879661632/)

Ashar Kamal
Ashar Kamal

Ashar is a mechanical engineer by profession and a traveler by heart. He is an automobile freak who loves to get his hands dirty in restoring a scrapped vehicle to its original working condition. A patent searcher and analyst, he enjoys reading and writing about automotive technologies.


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