Technology has grown by leaps and bounds in the last two decades. It continues to grow in ways we could never have imagined back in the 1980s. Technology is redefining our comfort zones - how we do everything from shopping for groceries, to buying cars. In a few years, it is highly likely that car showrooms will become obsolete. Even now it’s possible to drive the latest car model without actually driving it. How is this possible? The answer is two words: Virtual Reality. Virtual Reality is coming, and it’s going to revolutionize the automotive and transportation industry.
In the last few years, there has been an effort to put up digital retail stores. These stores make purchasing a car easier, and the dealership space need not be big. The Virtual Reality (VR) market has exceeded the multi-billion dollar mark and is expected to expand even more within the next few years. The possibility that it will hit the $120 billion dollar mark is very high.
Advantages of Virtual Reality Showrooms
The normal routine while buying a car is to visit a showroom/dealership. The chances of them having all the models you would like to test, or the colors you want, are few. Not with VR! With VR, you have the opportunity to customize your dream car as you envision it - colour, model, size - everything you need. You can walk around the car, sit in the driver’s seat with VR headsets, and get a feel of the vehicle - all virtually simulated.
Some car companies are already offering this technology. Soon you may start enjoying pre-recorded virtual test drives so you can get a virtual feel of driving the car. The advantage of this is that you can get to drive virtual cars that are not even in production yet. Potential car buyers can virtually drive any car long before production. This is a good way to gauge a car’s popularity even before production. It lets you collect data and estimate how well it will be received once it starts rolling out.
It is costly for car manufacturers and dealerships to transport every model for customers to sample physically. VR makes it so much easier. It saves millions of dollars in transport, road insurance and the physical inconvenience of transporting the vehicles. Most car buyers are not willing to travel long distances just to view a car. VR provides maximum convenience - the customer can even do the virtual drive from their own homes. This convenience is also a superb sales ploy. You are not limited to how many models a vendor can show you.
It is possible to see what your dream car’s paint job will look like. You can change its rims and see how they fit. An interior upgrade is simple, or have your car customized to your preferences. This can get done by Augmented Reality (AR), and you’ll receive a virtual experience of how your car will be post-customization.
Self- drive cars are arguably the automotive industry’s biggest achievement yet. Progress gained considerably as several public tests have been undertaken in recent years. A major concern about these autonomous cars is safety, and the research and development (R&D) that goes into these cars is very complex.
VR comes into play again here. VR can test the controls that test these vehicles. Data streams simulated in VR replace the VR sensors and testing a vehicle should ideally be done for as long as possible. This is also done to increase coverage as every car released should be physically trial-driven. Any software changes or updates should get tested, too. This is a slow and painstaking process. VR makes the process faster, because it only means the addition of more computers for the simulations.
These tests check areas such as: how good is a heavy truck's ability to avoid hitting a pedestrian? What is the car’s response when another crashes into it at full speed? Corner negotiation testing is one of the most dangerous tests. It is also expensive as it runs the risk of having people injured or things damaged. VR makes those tests safer for everyone.
The tests should get done over and over. When doing physical testing, you have to test the car under different weather conditions. If you want to know how a car performs in different road conditions, you have to drive the car there physically. You may also recreate those conditions, which is costly and physically taxing. With VR, it’s just a matter of configuring the conditions you want. Technology makes it that simple.
Human beings versus self – drive cars
Besides the safety issue of self-driven cars, there is always the human element to consider. The car will have to transport people to and fro. The User Experience (UX) is a crucial factor in this equation. The UX has to be enjoyable with no frustrations experienced. Testing every possible scenario would be expensive and almost impossible. VR makes it much easier to test these scenarios. When two models need to be tested, physical models won't be necessary as two VR models will suffice.
It will take time until cars are 100% autonomous. Currently, they are not. At some point, you will be expected to take control of the car. The big challenge is how to hand complete control to the car. As it is, you have to be very alert even when the car is on self-drive. In reality, the car ought to be self-driving while you do something else or even nap. VR is crucial in the research towards making this delicate transition towards autonomy.
Reconstruction of Scenarios
When accidents occur, it is almost always impossible to reconstruct what exactly happened. In VR technology, it is possible to create a hypothesis from the scene. The description of events by eyewitnesses and the victims is crucial. Their reports get matched against the model’s line of sight in VR.
Reconstruction also serves manufacturers well by providing real-life scenarios. It is not easy to collect all possible scenarios, but having these real-life tests allows them to collect enough data. The government could also profit greatly from VR in designing safety measures and standards.
VR can be useful in training police officers or paramedics. The reconstruction of an accident scene gets conducted in a safe environment in comparison to an actual scene. VR is also very useful in driving schools, as the students, once familiar with the simulator, can reach a certain proficiency level before venturing out on the roads.
VR can be used to demonstrate the repercussions of dangerous driving without placing anyone in danger. You can show what happens when you text and drive, using a VR simulation in a controlled situation. This technology can also be used to train pedestrians and cyclists.
VR is also useful for training machine operators in a factory. By using VR for training, the machines are left free to do their actual jobs and no gap gets created. New staff are trained with VR simulation, and can go on the machine once they are proficient enough.
As the world and technology become more sophisticated, it is inevitable that things we know change, too. The world is leaning towards a time where software development is linked with everything. Designing a car is dependent on software, as will driving the car be in a few years. Today, it is possible to test drive and buy a car virtually. In coming years, you will be able to sit back and let the car drive you to your destination. In the meantime, research is still going on as they study how to make the self-drive car 100% autonomous. VR will be an integral part of the automotive industry's future. VR is the future, and the future is here!
Are you excited to own a self-driving car? Have you tried one using VR? Share your thoughts below!