Virtual Reality – Changing How Cars Are Made
October 14, 2020
The automotive industry has been adopting new ways to work for a while now, since virtual reality and augmented reality started to expand how real-world businesses could function. There has been a strong adoption of these technologies in many other sectors. In the automotive industry, virtualized realities are becoming key functions in work processes, from mapping out car ideas to the production of finished vehicles. Showrooms have adopted virtual reality as a sales tool which allows salespeople to show off any car of the brand, without needing to have them in stock at the time. What’s more, virtual reality can also demonstrate the different trim levels and upgrades available across the brand, which is of great assistance to upselling. Virtual reality and augmented reality are being looked at and developed for use inside vehicles, and this is expected to expand as 5G makes truly autonomous vehicles possible. From heads-up displays for the driver, night vision, or virtual reality activities for passengers, the uses being discovered are expanding. It is expected that in the future, many will be able to enjoy virtual environments and games as they travel, or even work on virtualized devices. These uses of virtual reality are promoted quite heavily, but one area often overlooked is the research and development stage. Products have been modeled and designed in applications for a long time now, normally presenting 3D models on 2D screens. Now, however, virtual reality is adding a new dynamic to the development process and also opening up the possibility of totally new design concepts for car interiors. [https://relaycars.gryffin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/image-80.jpeg] HOW CAN VIRTUAL REALITY ASSIST DESIGN? Research and design are complicated and expensive processes, especially where cars are concerned. Manufacturers often spend years refining a single-vehicle. CAD has been a major player in the industry for a long time but is now transitioning towards integrated virtual reality CAD designs. The benefit of virtual reality is that it can provide lifelike, lifesize, and interactive designs. While modeling on a computer screen is quite effective, being able to see designs to scale, use x-ray vision, and even test them against realistic real-world simulations adds new dynamics to the design process. The fact that the environment is virtual also helps to increase design collaboration. It doesn’t matter where experts or investors are located, they can join a virtual room to view and collaborate on designs. With all of the company’s experts and invested parties able to easily be a part of the ongoing development of a design, it allows for continuous progressive development and feedback. This is more favorable to creating “complete” designs and then presenting them only to find that major adjustments are needed. Instead, any element of the vehicle can easily be viewed and reviewed remotely at any stage. With a virtual model, there is also a more complete feel to the design. Being able to see it to size, move around it, interact with elements and more can help to check the design and functionality better. This can help with everything from aesthetics to finding issues and faults. The virtual reality environment allows not only for design but also for interactive testing of the designs, allowing designers to see if the things work and if they could be viable. According to seat-mediacenter.com: “This technology succeeds in reducing production time of the prototypes by 30%”. Virtual reality has reached the point where a virtual vehicle could be test driven in a virtual world and how it would respond is almost exactly how it would respond when driven in the real world. This effective reviewing of designs helps to speed up every step, from design through to production, and later virtual reality even helps with online and real-world sales. [https://relaycars.gryffin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/image-81.jpeg] HOW THE USE OF VIRTUAL REALITY COULD AFFECT DESIGN FEATURES We mentioned earlier that virtual reality and augmented or mixed reality could become a big feature of the automobile traveling experience in the future. This, in itself, is likely to affect how cars are designed. While automation is surely going to change the operation and layout of vehicles, virtual elements could also, in theory, replace current real-world objects. This could, to some degree, even work with manually operated vehicles or remote drivers, allowing for virtual elements to control aspects of the vehicle. In this sense, we are talking about the possibility of removing a lot of the real-world “interactive parts” from cars, and instead, replacing them with virtual objects. This could either greatly simplify interior designs, swaying more towards space and comfort, or allow for totally different approaches to interior vehicle design. Elements in the car could also be hidden or interactive by using touch, light, or motion sensors and information systems within the vehicle that interlink with the virtual reality concepts. [https://relaycars.gryffin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/image-82.jpeg] HOW VIRTUAL REALITY COULD CHANGE PROTOTYPES Coming up with nice and intuitive designs is one thing, but developing a working prototype is a whole different level. Each development will go through numerous levels of design, discussion, fixes, redesigning, and testing. If any mistakes are made during this process, the costs can be extremely high. The smallest design fault can lead to halted production or even a total recall of all vehicles sold. This kind of error has further-reaching costs as well, as a brand’s image and consumer trust can be negatively impacted. Even detecting issues early in the process can cause considerable expense and delays, especially where key components are concerned or being produced for a real-world prototype. This is why it is so important that designers can both effectively design but also collaborate with experts and test design ideas at each step. Virtual reality is a major asset in every part of this process. It allows developers to visualize the vehicle in a life-sized and interactive environment. Seeing designs at scale can greatly help with detecting issues or flaws that could impact usability, function, or development. Being able to operate or use the designs as they are intended for the real-world only adds more insight to this testing phase. It also allows experts from any area of the company, or even remote consultants, to collaborate on any part of the design or even the final concept. How parts function or even how an entire engine should perform can be tested. What’s more, numerous situations such as weather, sea level, different surfaces, and more can be simulated to see how things work. The simplest of mechanisms can be tested, observed, and refined. As the vehicle can be actively interacted with, layout and accessibility issues also become clearer when observed on a functional lifesize model. If issues are found, depending on the advancement of the virtual reality system, it could even be possible to make real-time corrections or switch in already existing alternative designs. TESTING AND DRIVING THE FINAL VERSION Whereas before virtual reality any level of real testing required a prototype to be constructed and thoroughly tested, with virtual reality the testing phase can begin before any real-world construction. Virtual prototyping is now a reality, using a combination of interactive virtual reality and powerful computing to generate realistic and detailed prototypes, as well as ‘real world’ scenarios to place them in. The days of needing numerous clay models and prototypes are mostly gone. While they may still have some uses, the new virtual models use ‘materials’ that have all the properties of their real-world counterparts. Designers and engineers can check everything from styling to aerodynamics. Automotive manufactures are already using virtual reality design, as well as using it in other parts of the production process. As stated by thedrive.com “It would no longer be necessary to produce multiple physical models of various items to piece together and potentially reject due to fitment or design conflicts.” This is a huge step, as the research and design stages are both reduced and become more streamlined with the introduction of virtual design and testing. It also isn’t only the outside or mechanics of the car that can be tested in a virtual space. With advanced virtual environments, it is possible to test what it is like to be in the car and traveling on a journey. This can also be linked to ‘real-world’ effects, such as a mockup of the driver’s area, wind, engine vibrations, etc. Some of these systems allow for live adjustments so that designers can test different styles of items, or even quickly sketch out a new idea from within the simulation. Many showrooms today are already providing customers with virtual tours of cars, including virtual test drives. While this technology has been around for a while now, new business uses and improvements are constantly being conceived and implemented. [https://relaycars.gryffin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/image-83.jpeg] HOW VIRTUAL REALITY IS IMPROVING THE PRODUCTION STAGE Staff can now be trained in virtual environments before being set to work in the real world. This allows them to learn, practice, fail, and practice some more in a virtual and safe environment. The training can be created by the design staff and engineers that are specialists in prototype design. Each aspect can also later be adjusted, should any further errors occur. By allowing training from the experts on a particular vehicle design to be used to educate production staff in any area of the company, issues are often avoided. As an added benefit, the virtual environment doesn’t require resources or machinery, which reduces costs and allows the production line to continue functioning at full speed during training. Experienced staff members are also not required to undertake training or to take time out to monitor new trainees, helping to increase productivity overall. When the trainee is eventually ready to start work on the real-world production process, they can still be guided by augmented reality or mixed reality as they work. These headsets can overlay information on the real world, highlight issues, catch malformations, and much more. Even notifications and warnings can be sent remotely to these virtual devices. TO SUM UP The automotive sector has been quick to adopt virtual technologies. They have been using them for years, and have found intuitive and inventive ways of incorporating virtual worlds into real workflows. When it comes to prototyping, there are significant advantages to this technology. However, virtual reality has impacted many aspects of automotive production and will likely continue to be adopted further. To date, some of the impacts of using virtual reality and mixed reality in the automotive industry include: * Increased safety for trainees and employees * Increased productivity * Less downtime * Reduced costs across various areas * Improved collaboration without travel * Faster and more cost-effective prototypes * Consumer engagement There are likely many other benefits, but it isn’t hard to see why more and more businesses, particularly in industry, are adopting these virtual approaches to design, testing, training, working, and much more.
A History of the Rise of Virtual Reality
August 15, 2020
Twenty years ago, virtual reality was a technology breakthrough that used crude graphics and bulky headsets to transport participants to another realm—a virtual playground. In 1995, the movie Strange Days foreshadowed a more complex type of VR, an experience that tapped into the brain to relive moments and events that were captured from the past. The movie explored the addictive qualities of this type of virtual reality, equating it to a drug that enables users to get high off the euphoria and emotions of moments seemingly lost in time. While the VR experiences in Strange Days never came to reality, the past two decades have seen an uptick in this technology. There has been a clear evolution from those once crude graphics and massive headsets to a streamlined form of virtual reality. Today’s augmented reality is built into our cars, our homes and our lives. Bulky headsets aren’t required to experience these virtual worlds; now we simply need to start the ignition of our cars or say “Hey, Siri.” Here’s a look at the evolution and history of augmented reality and how it has progressed throughout the years since its inception: ANTIQUE VIRTUAL REALITY The Virtual Reality Society is the go-to hub for all things VR. The site has a full history of virtual and augmented reality from this technology’s inception. In the beginning, though, VR was a bit more…basic. According to the VRS, the birth of virtual reality began with panoramic paintings. How is a painting virtual reality? In the 1800s, the idea of experiencing a moment in time or another world could really only be captured in pictures. To bring the individual into the moment, these pictures had to be large and “fill the viewer’s entire field of vision.” Viewing a panoramic painting allowed the individual to feel as though they were transported into that scene, that painting. Panoramic paintings are the primitive form of VR as we know it. THE VIEW-MASTER Did you play with a View-Master as a child? These camera-like devices required you to place a round disc lined with pictures into a viewing slot. When you peered through the glasses (and, yes, they looked like VR glasses), the pictures created a virtual world that seemed to come alive. Clicking through the pictures helped tell a full story, and, as you clicked through the slideshow, the characters and scenes seemed to come alive before you. According to the VRS, William Gruber invented the View-Master in 1939, but the toy version was popular for many decades. MOVING PICTURES (OR MOTION PICTURES) Although the VRS doesn’t include motion pictures in its virtual reality history, the movies that we now enjoy regularly were cutting edge when they were introduced. Watching a movie allowed viewers to be transported visually to a new adventure and a new place. Movies captured far-off destinations and brought books to life. Moving pictures evolved from silent shows with captions to pictures with dubbed sound, and black and white pictures eventually became a world of color. THE SENSORAMA In the 1950s, a new device called the Sensorama was invented by Morton Heilig. The VRS describes this “an arcade-style theatre cabinet that would stimulate all the senses, not just sight and sound.” Speakers, fans, vibrating elements and a 3D display enabled participants to virtually experience movies with titles like Motorcycle, Dune Buggy, Belly Dancer and helicopter. AUGMENTED REALITY IN A COMPUTER The 60s gave us groovy music, peace and love…and, yes, even virtual reality in a computer. In 1969 Myron Kruegere created the first virtual reality (or artificial reality) in a computer program. Kruegere allowed for individuals to interact with each other virtually in a computer environment; his invention let those living in different places stay in touch via the screen…a common habit we take for granted today. VR HEADSETS & SIMULATIONS: THE FUN & FUNKY ‘70S STARTED THE TREND In the early 70s, General Electric created a virtual flight simulator. The simulator was used for pilot training, according to the VRS. In 1975, Myron Krueger invented Videoplace, and it was the very definition of funky. A website devoted to Krueger has all the details about his invention. Videoplace consisted of two rooms; participants could step inside and their image would be projected on the screen (and others could be projected with them). While in Videoplace, you also could virtually interact with other projected items. Plus, you could manipulate your image too (changing the color, size, etc.). VRS includes Videoplace in its history of VR, as this creation was an important contribution to the emerging technology. The latter part of the ‘70s saw the creation of a program called the MIT Movie Map, which was invented at MIT. VRS states that “It was almost like an ancient precursor of Google Street View.” Unlike Google Street View, Movie Map only allowed users to virtually experience one location: Aspen, Colo. Two years later (in 1979) McDonnell Douglas created the precursor to the VR headset: the VITAL Helmet. With the helmet, pilots could see virtual imagery. THE ‘80S & ‘90S: PERFECTING VR The ‘80s and ‘90s were times of virtual reality evolution. The phrase “virtual reality” was used for the first time in 1987. Sayre Gloves were invented in 1982, and these were the precursor to “data gloves,” according to the VRS. Throughout the ‘80s, VR was exploding…and the VRS notes many historic breakthroughs. VPL Research—the first VR company to sell VR items like HMDs and gloves—was founded in 1985. And, in 1986, The Super Cockpit allowed for more detailed VR flight simulations for pilots. NASA also became involved in VR in 1989, and used virtual reality program simulators to prepare astronauts. In the ‘90s VR went commercial. This was the decade that virtual reality really went mainstream. Kids heading to the arcade could jump in a simulator and experience virtual reality. Sega and Nintendo both had VR offerings; Sega’s never jumped out of the prototype phase, according to VRS. Nintendo launched its Virtual Boy, but it failed to land with consumers. [https://relaycars.gryffin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/AHistoryoftheRiseofVirtualReality.jpg] THE NEW MILLENNIUM Virtual reality was the subject of the movie The Matrix (1999), which transformed the notion of virtual reality as the technology moved into the new millennium. In The Matrix, Neo had to choose to take either a blue pill or a red pill–a choice that was the key to either continuing to live in the virtual, artificial world known as The Matrix or to wake up and face a brutal (and annihilated) world post apocalypse. While the movie might have left viewers wondering if we were all just trapped in a virtual reality, it also pushed virtual reality and its capabilities into the forefront. Although the machines took over the world in The Matrix, our world embraced the rise of computers and virtual assistants. The new millennium slowly introduced virtual reality into our daily lives. Game consoles like the Wii let players virtually experience different types of sports and games. The controllers were small handheld contraptions that sensed movement and interacted with the console to virtually control the game action on the screen. VR TODAY VR is now fully integrated into our lives. In 2011, Apple integrated Siri into the iPhone® 4S, and this emergence of built-in virtual assistants became yet another type of augmented reality. Our phones responded now to our requests. With a simple “Hey, Siri…,” we could order pizza, search the web, send a text and make a call. Siri gave rise to Alexa, a VR assistant built-in to Amazon devices. These devices—fueled by Alexa’s ingenuity—could control appliances in our home and even call for food deliveries. Alexa ushered in the Internet of Things (or IoT), and homeowners could purchase smart plugs and smart power strips designed to work with Alexa; daily appliances like the coffee maker could be plugged into the strips or plugs, and, suddenly, Alexa could take over. The morning routine, once a series of rituals like brewing the coffee, turning on the television and making breakfast was suddenly a virtual experience. “Alexa, brew the coffee.” “Alexa, turn on the light.” “Alexa, what’s the weather today.” With one simple command, life became almost effortless. [https://relaycars.gryffin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/AHistoryoftheRiseofVirtualReality-1.jpg] AUGMENTED REALITY: DRIVING OUR LIVES The millennium also gave rise to VR in the automobile, although computers were taking over already. While many automobiles were utilizing computer chips for different functions, virtual reality started slowly creeping into the drive. Many drivers started using VR in the car thanks to portable devices like GPS systems. Garmin devices could plug into the car and display an easy map of the trip, giving voice commands and highlighting the route along the way. Getting lost was now a problem of the past. And forget about those bulky maps that could never be refolded with ease! Who needs a map when you have a navigation screen! The popularity of these systems likely led to manufacturers finding a way to include them into the automobile. Cars began to incorporate smart features like digital driver displays that alerted drivers of inflation issues with tires, old oil or other issues. Back-up cameras started to become a standard feature, as the rear camera view allowed drivers to parallel park with ease and back out of tight parking lots, and, hopefully, reduce fender benders. Today’s cars are loaded with virtual features, and many consumers probably don’t realize that these features are a form of VR. Backup cameras have evolved into multiple cameras that give drivers a full view of the entire car. Warning sounds alert when a driver pulls too close to an obstacle, and some cars even stop automatically when an obstacle is detected by sensors. To ease the issues of night driving, rearview mirrors now project images from the backup cameras to give drivers a better view behind them. Even smartphones have found a home in the car. Smartphones can integrate into the vehicle’s entertainment system, and we can interact with the phone in our car…without lifting a finger. We can stream music, make calls and pull up maps and other functions. AUGMENTED REALITY: DRIVING THE AUTOMOBILE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE While virtual reality has taken over the driver’s seat in most vehicles, the technology also has transformed the way many dealerships are doing business. During the pandemic, restrictions may have forced dealerships to close or limit the number of customers. Shopping for a vehicle was no longer an easy and laid-back experience. To ensure that consumers could still view inventory and shop for their dream car, dealerships began offering virtual showrooms. These online sites allowed customers to view the interior and exterior of the car and check out the features, too. Dealerships that couldn’t set up their own online virtual showroom could direct buyers to sites like RelayCars, which hosted online showrooms filled with new (and older) makes and models. The site lets customers browse at their leisure and find the car that is right for their budget and lifestyle. Customers can look at different vehicles and even change some of the vehicle’s features (like the paint color). For dealerships and manufacturers, virtual reality also created other opportunities to elevate the shopping experience. VR gave manufacturers and dealerships the opportunity to offer test drives when the customer couldn’t leave home. Some test drives were available through app experiences; customers could tilt their screen to navigate the car…just like a game. VR IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT: USAGE BEYOND THE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE Manufacturers and dealerships might have embraced the virtual reality world for showrooms and test drives during the pandemic out of necessity, but this technology has been used by the industry for many other reasons, too. Volvo teamed up with Varjo for a “mixed use headset” called the Varjo XR-1 headset. This headset was used by engineers “to develop and evaluate active safety solutions more easily.” Porsche’s “Tech Live Look” partners smart glasses with a software platform to help guide service technicians in repairs. The glasses include an LED light to shine on hard to see places and the glasses also magnify, allowing technicians to see tiny details. Apple also might be taking over the windshield. The company applied for a patent for a smart windshield. According to an article by Future Car, the writer of the patent detailed that the windshield, “…could facilitate video calls and other forms of communication while waiting to reach one’s destination.” Yes, videoconferencing in the car may be our future! VR TAKING OVER: THE SELF-DRIVING CAR The future for virtual reality in the automobile industry is leaning toward a fully virtual car. While this technology hasn’t been perfected, it is on the horizon. Virtual reality is already embedded into our vehicles, and a car that drives and navigates without a human behind the wheel may be our space-age reality. Are we ready, though, for machines to take over our lives completely? The Matrix might have been a work of fiction, but it also could have been a foreshadowing of what will come next. Will the machines become smarter than humans…and conquer humanity? Or will the computer—and virtual reality—just act as our virtual chauffeur, chef and personal assistant? Whatever the future holds, just remember to buckle up… and be prepared to relinquish the driver’s seat. [https://relaycars.gryffin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/AHistoryoftheRiseofVirtualReality.png]
Apple Dives Deeper into Virtual Reality with Purchase of Broadcaster NextVR
August 12, 2020
The news of Apple purchasing NextVR is a major change in the VR market. While they are not revealing their exact plans for the platform, it is a strong indication that something big is coming. As of last year, NextVR was heading towards 100 employees and secured some major brand-named partnerships in the sports world. As a startup in 2009, it had gained significant traction and support in the VR industry. The niche focus of this company was not simply on headsets or gaming experiences. They wanted to deliver better at-home virtual reality entertainment experiences, especially to sports fans. Sports weren’t all that they covered though, as everything from concerts to paranormal investigations was provided in full VR. Using special cameras at the events, NextVR was able to provide people at home with a realistic experience of major events that were being hosted hundreds of miles away. However, since the acquisition by Apple, their website currently displays a message that “NextVR is Heading in a New Direction” – which hints at some major changes being in the pipeline, although nothing has yet been announced as to what these changes could be. WHY SHOULD APPLE BE INTERESTED IN VR/AR? Apple has already been working on their headset for a while. Although there is no official launch date at this time, many expect the launch to happen in the next 18 months. There are rumors that this headset is going to provide both AR and VR in one device. The purchase of NextVR by Apple shows a strong commitment to this technology. THE FUTURE OF VR VR is not only about entertainment, such as concerts and games, but can be used in so many other ways. People can virtually experience almost anything through VR, making it a great tool for sales, useful for training, and even for helping to improve the lives of those with physical challenges. This technology can be used for virtual travel, distance education, online shopping, or even shopping for a new car virtually without the need for visiting a showroom. The full range of opportunities isn’t yet known, as new innovations are constantly being unveiled. VR IN ONLINE SHOPPING When it comes to online shopping, instead of viewing a 2D image on a website, your shopping experience could actually be in a virtual shop or showroom where you can interact with the items. You can view items from all angles, and even hear them in a totally virtual environment from within your own home. VR IN THE MEDICAL SECTOR In the medical sector, potential uses being explored are amazing. Not only can students study and practice virtually, but doctors can also consult and assist with treatments and patient diagnosis from anywhere in the world. VR IN ROBOTICS 5G is also coming into the picture, offering data transfer rates that were previously not possible, especially wirelessly. This then allows for VR and AR to become ‘live’ and wireless, with the content being streamed remotely and allowing for almost instant real-time interactions. As robotics progress, VR and 5G could become a human connection technology. As COVID-19 spreads, the need for at-home meetings, training, and more has been growing exponentially in demand. VR and AR can allow people to do incredible things from home without needing to risk physical contact or exposure. Whatever is coming is almost sure to be market challenging, especially when combining the entertainment systems of NextVR with the likely high-end VR/AR tech of Apple’s new headset. WHAT LIKELY MOTIVATED THE MOVE TO PURCHASE NEXTVR? While there are rumors about Apple soon launching a new device in this sector, this particular purchase was more likely connected with entertainment and some of the technologies that NextVR used in production. VR and AR content and uses are expanding. It is important for any company that breaks into this industry to have both effective technology and quality content. NextVR had the technology and partnerships to provide great content, but we will have to wait and see what Apple does with it. While NextVR is, of course, focused on VR content, there are already ideas in the pipeline for AR glasses that allow the experience of VR content in various ways. If the details provided by MacRumors are correct, then the way we currently experience AR and VR might be changing. MacRumors claims that, “Apple is working on two AR projects, including an augmented reality headset set to be released in 2022 followed by a sleeker pair of augmented reality glasses coming in 2023.” MacRumors has deduced from the patents filed and the help of an insider that Apple not only plans to provide glasses in this field but also new and inventive ways for which users will be able to interact with augmented worlds. Most VR or AR setups today require interaction through devices like gloves or other sensor fitted devices. However, Apple seems to be working towards a way in which people could virtually interact with surfaces and augmented environments through natural movement and touch – with no other devices needed. HOW MUCH WAS APPLE’S PURCHASE OF BROADCASTER NEXTVR? NextVR was a startup company with a strong focus on providing the next level in at-home sporting entertainment. Considering the initial investment raised $115.5 million (tracked by Crunchbase), the purchase should be a considerable amount. However, we will not know the exact figure until it is made public. The initial rounds of investments, VR streaming technology, and high-end partnerships with major sports entities like Wimbledon and the NBA make it likely this takeover involved a significant purchase price. The exact price is unknown. Although the purchase was confirmed to 9to5Mac by Apple, the full details were not disclosed. 9to5Mac estimated the purchase price was likely around $100 million. [https://relaycars.gryffin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/ApplebuysNextVR.jpg] WHERE IS APPLE VR/AR GOING NEXT? There are signs that a high-end spec VR and AR device will be released soon. It is likely to be a single device that can perform both functions, with wireless freedom for the user. It will be powered by Apple’s state of the art technology, which has long held a reputation for its graphics processing capabilities. This will be a challenge to Microsoft’s and Facebook’s current grip on the market. In order to crack the market, Apple needs to launch something that is beyond what is currently available and popular. Apple has already released ARKit to developers, sparking the development of AR apps for iPhones and iPads. Facebook acquired Oculus in March of 2014, which prompted rapid growth from developers to create content and take a leap into VR products. Many are currently predicting that computers and phones themselves could even be replaced with AR glasses that project what we need and allow us to interact with the image via motion tracking or compact sensor devices. [https://relaycars.gryffin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/ApplebuysNextVR-1.jpg] How many of the ‘things’ we use today could become augmented objects of the future? For an indication, just look at the number of objects and functions a mobile phone has replaced over the last 10-20 years. This market is going to explode, with some current projections showing ten-fold growth in the next 4-5 years. As of 2019, the current AR market was worth about $33 billion, and the VR market was worth $13.5 billion according to Consultancy.org. They then project this to expand to $338.1 billion and $138.3 respectively. LEFTRONIC also predicts rapid growth, showing that as soon as 2025, there is a significant chance that “the AR market will reach $198 billion” and that “68.7 million users are expected to use augmented reality at least once monthly”. No wonder Apple is making some major moves.
Virtual Reality in Automotive Market: What will be the Short-term Impact of Coronavirus?
August 5, 2020
In March, businesses across the country shut down in an effort to flatten the curve of coronavirus infection rates as the virus threatened to spread out of control. Life as usual stopped suddenly, and businesses were forced to adjust to the closures in a fight for financial survival. Many industries learned to evolve to stay afloat and keep sales from tanking. Customers could no longer shop or patronize businesses and shops in person; in many states, shelter-in-place mandates kept many from leaving their home for anything but the essentials. In response, the evolution of business and retail went virtual…and online. The automotive industry may have seen sales and consumer traffic drop significantly during the height of the pandemic, and, even now, some states may still limit businesses to a minimum number of patrons. BCG reports that 2020 sales (in the US, Europe and China) are forecasted to be 14 to 22 percent lower. However, the pain of the industry is more complicated than just the noticeable drop in foot traffic at dealerships. In a report titled “Understanding the impact of Covid-19 automotive industry,” Deloitte explains that plant closures also played a role in the issues faced by executives in the industry. Closed plants meant the halt of production, and perhaps a limited amount of models hitting the showrooms and dealer lots. CNBC reported that because of coronavirus plant closures, global auto production was expected to drop by 1.4 million vehicles. While the halt in factory production might have forced major automotive manufacturers and the executives in the industry to brace for a decreased supply, dealerships still needed to find ways to sell the inventory on lots. Sales couldn’t simply stand at zero, survival meant adjusting to the quarantine and finding ways to reach consumers. The solution? Many embraced virtual reality technology to bring the car buying process to life when in-person sales and laid-back visits to dealer lots simply were not a viable–or safe–option for consumers. However, virtual reality showrooms aren’t simply a short-term solution to an economy that has faced limitations on shopping and sales that have been complicated by constantly evolving safety guidelines. Instead, the use of VR might be the new pivot of the industry, an advancement that was waiting on the sidelines and was already prepared to jump into the driver’s seat. Virtual driver’s seat, that is. As Covid forced employers and schools to adopt a virtual environment, many businesses and educators have embraced virtual methods as users have adapted to their high-tech features. Businesses began to understand that conducting business at home was cheaper and, in many ways, more convenient and much safer than pushing employees to come into the office. The normal business as usual became virtual offices, conferences, interviews and lectures. The automotive industry has realized that offering a virtual showroom that allows the buyer to browse cars at their leisure may be here to stay. In fact, virtual reality in the automotive market may be a long-term solution to what was perceived as a short-term impact of a pandemic. VR IN THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY: VIRTUAL SHOWROOMS, MARKETING PIZZAZZ & TRAINING TOOLS Fortune Business Insights released a comprehensive report that detailed predictions and data about virtual reality’s use within the industry. The use of virtual reality in the automotive industry is far-reaching and is used beyond the concept of virtual showrooms Fortune Business Insights notes that virtual reality can–and likely will–be used in marketing campaigns for manufacturers. However, VR already is used in training; the report noted that in 2019 both Rolls Royce and Qatar Airways announced that VR would be used to train engineers. For consumers–and perhaps even other audiences, too–Fortune discussed scenarios that could integrate virtual reality to boost sales or marketing efforts. Fortune posited using VR to navigate a vehicle on a different planet! Imagine allowing a buyer to somehow interact with the vehicle as viewed on Mars…or even on a beach. This digital experience allows companies to create any image they wish for their product. Take a ride in a luxury vehicle along the coast of Monaco! The scenery and the backdrop for the VR showroom or virtual test drive could elevate a brand’s reputation and create a memorable experience for the consumer. The savvier the experience, the deeper the impact it could create for the future buyer. [https://relaycars.gryffin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/VirtualRealityinAutomotiveMarket.jpg] THE VIRTUAL TEST DRIVE ISN’T NEW… BUT IT MAY BE GAINING MORE TRACTION THANKS TO COVID Exotic locales for test drives might be a future possibility, but manufacturers are already offering some type of virtual reality simulated driving experiences. Fortune Business Insights’ report noted that Volvo offered this experience to buyers for its XC90 model. Given that the report was released before Covid, Volvo was ahead of the game. Audi also steered ahead of the curve; back in 2018, The Drum reported that Audi offered a virtual reality test drive of its Q5 model… except Audi conducted the test drive in a sandbox (a virtual sandbox, that is!). Now, in a world that is still adjusting amid the pandemic, dealerships also are offering the virtual test drive experience to their buyers. Krieger Ford offers virtual test drives on numerous models so consumers can feel out different car models. The VR works on phones–operating almost like a game!–and consumers can tilt the screen to maneuver their vehicle. THE VIRTUAL SHOWROOM In the current health climate, businesses across the country may still be limiting the number of patrons within their stores. Dealerships also could be restricting the number of potential buyers within their showroom to follow local and state health mandates during the Covid pandemic. As some states continue to be hot spots, the effect of these restrictions could have more of an impact within certain geographic locations. Yet, Coronavirus and the health restrictions (especially the weeks of shelter-in-place mandates required in many states) have forced many dealerships to seek out other ways to reach buyers. The solution has gone virtual… and online. As conferencing platforms have taken over the boardroom, virtual reality apps and platforms have become the new normal for previewing a new car at a dealership. Virtual showrooms are a different form of virtual reality. These unique online experiences give consumers the ability to shop for a new car at home, in private and without pressure. Yet, the experience is still quite similar to a real-life dealership showroom. HOW CAN BUYERS ACCESS A VIRTUAL REALITY SHOWROOM? Here’s how the virtual showroom works: Choose the Make, Model, Year and Trim from the available vehicle options Hit the ‘Explore’ button Use the navigation options to view the vehicle’s interior and exterior Select the ‘color’ icon to view the different color choices for the vehicle The virtual showroom allows potential buyers to see different features of each vehicle to help simplify the shopping process. Using the virtual showroom is especially beneficial for those who are comparing newer models of vehicles or who are simply researching options. VIRTUAL REALITY SHOWROOMS & USED VEHICLES Virtual reality showroom sites may provide consumers with older model vehicles on certain makes/models. However, for consumers on the hunt for a used vehicle, the research process may require a bit more due diligence. The VR showroom shows older models, but these models are simply models of the cars. They don’t show any potential flaws or damage that a used model on the lot could exhibit. For this reason, buyers on the hunt for older cars can use VR sites and platforms for guidance, but they also should send an inquiry to the dealership to ask about any specific flaws or issues. Most dealerships offer photo slideshows of inventory, but never hesitate to ask for more information. CORONAVIRUS: THE SHORT-TERM IMPACT MIGHT NOT BE SHORT-TERM AT ALL Virtual reality technology and offerings were wired into the automotive industry before Coronavirus wreaked its havoc. While the impact of Covid has probably boosted the need for virtual reality showrooms and test drives for dealerships and manufacturers, it will evolve with the technology that guides and directs its design. Virtual reality will be a key feature in the automotive industry for the long haul. For many consumers, virtual reality in the automotive industry may simply mean that they can go online or download an app and take a virtual test drive or shop for models via a virtual showroom. Executives in the industry, though, may understand that this technology will penetrate the automotive market in other ways; training has already integrated virtual reality technology for some companies. Virtual reality has the potential to take the shopping experience into the fast lane; as Fortune Business Insights theorized, buyers could soon take virtual test drives on other planets… or somewhere exotic. Companies could let buyers into the driver’s seat in virtual race simulations to feel out the strength of the engine. The possibilities for how VR could be used in the automotive industry could be limited only by the imagination of the designers and engineers. For the automotive industry, virtual reality could be the beginning of an amazing evolution in the buying process. As VR simulations advance and become even more true to life, there may be no need to ever visit a brick and mortar dealership. The right car could be just a click away, and virtual car shopping may become the new normal.