AR/VR – It’s in the Car
There is little doubt that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are beginning to make inroads into many industries and applications from gaming to surgery. As these technologies continue to advance over the next several years, consumers should expect to see them increasingly integrated into everyday experiences. Among these will be automotive experiences, both inside and outside of vehicles. Here’s a quick rundown of where VR and AR are driving exciting changes in the automotive industry:
Providing drivers with useful information has been a key focus of in-vehicle display design since the original inclusion of gauges in dashboards. AR is now being looked at as the next step in informative display technology, but its capabilities extend to both drivers and passengers.
For drivers, Heads-up Displays (HUDs) have been developed both as included features in some vehicles like BMW’s 7 series and as add-on accessories from third parties like Hudly. These products project information like speed, route, and cautions either onto transparent displays or directly onto windshield glass to assist drivers and reduce the need to look away from the road.
On the passenger side, concepts shown by multiple automotive manufacturers at recent tech shows feature augmented reality displays utilizing side windows as well. These concepts are farther from production, but offer an interesting glimpse into where AR integration with automotive cabin design is being explored.
Service / Repairs
A key draw of AR development in recent years has been in the field of guided instructions and training for hands-on work. Some of this development has been targeted at field technicians for oil & gas, surgeons, and other specialized industries, but the automotive industry is also looking at both VR and AR as platforms for service technician training.
The most practical application of AR (and to a lesser extent VR) for automotive service and repairs is in training technicians on specific repair methods, tools, and technologies. AR and VR make it possible to provide guided “hands on” training with simulated problems to troubleshoot in a variety of mechanical and electrical areas. Training can be delivered via goggles or headsets in low-stress environments without risk to actual customer vehicles.
Beyond basic training, AR and VR offer valuable opportunities for guidance and training on advanced components that traditionally require classroom or workshop sessions. New technologies in the cabin related to sensors, head units, HUDs, and driver assist features can easily be overwhelming without active repair guidance. And as electric vehicles gain prominence, training technicians on highly complex electrical systems will benefit greatly from AR- and VR-based programs.
Self-service & Technology Training
Smartphone-based AR technology has recently gotten to the point where vehicle owners can get real value out of using manufacturer-provided AR tools. Rather than relying on traditional training and information channels, owners can get custom, step-by-step guidance and explanations of key features and steps right on their phone.
While not a sexy application of the technology, an important one is the replacement of traditional user guides with interactive AR-based training. Well-designed apps can guide new owners through the process of setting up their infotainment system, driver settings, and customizable controls in an intuitive way. This provides a clear path to rectifying one of the key areas manufacturers and dealers often get penalized for on customer satisfaction surveys: in-vehicle technology and the lack of training on how to use it.
Beyond initial setup, AR is also making inroads into the self-repair space, taking the guesswork out of problem troubleshooting and standard repair processes. Rather than puzzling through repair manuals and forum suggestions, vehicle owners can use their phones to identify exactly which parts need repair or replacement and the exact steps needed to fix them with integrations for authentic OEM parts purchasing when needed.
Pre-sales & Marketing
When it comes to AR and VR for automotive, many people are most familiar with offerings on the sales and marketing side. Headsets and smartphones have created new platforms for OEMs to advertise, preview, and customize their product offerings to potential customers.
On the VR side, this is taking the form of immersive vehicle simulations, both inside and outside the car. Users with VR systems can preview realistic cars and trucks, customize their exterior and interior appearance, set them in different environments and lighting conditions, and even take them for a test drive. In many ways, this is an expansion of the traditional dealership showroom floor, but without having to leave your living room.
On the AR side, sales and marketing-oriented apps have taken several forms. One is to offer a preview of what a vehicle would look like, life-sized, in your own driveway or garage. Another is to allow existing owners to see what their car would look like with accessories and upgrades like more expensive wheels or trim packages. And then there are the fun apps that do everything from let you “drive” an RC car-sized version of your chosen vehicle around your office to put a virtual car ornament on your Christmas tree.
Customer Interaction Training
A less-explored area of development in the VR and AR space is in the field of customer interaction training. These technologies are beginning to enable OEMs to use virtual humans to train their dealership, service center, and call center staff on the best ways to create positive customer experiences and deal with issues that frequently come up.
To date, this technology is just being explored on the VR side with immersive simulations from companies like Talespin where entire narratives are built, acted, and rendered to mimic specific situations tailored to each client. However, future possibilities range from “virtual voice” simulations for phone interactions to specialized sales knowledge training workshops held entirely in simulated AR and VR workspaces. Paired with machine learning advances and new developments in voice generation and recognition, this is a particularly interesting area to keep an eye on.
Coming Soon to an OEM Near You
Just about anywhere you look in the automotive space, AR and VR are making inroads in interesting and innovative ways. Given the rapid pace of advancement in both of these technologies, expect to see even more applications and integrations into common automotive experiences in the next few years.