At the CES Show in |January this year, German automaker Audi revealed that in future, it would be possible for potential customers to test drive different models from their living room using an HTC Vive virtual reality headset. All they need is an iPad and the headset. They can opt for any make or model and customize elements like ranging from the shade of the external paint to the engine type, the seats and the wheels. Then, they need to go to an area that is 16 x 16 feet and wear the HTC Vive headset which is paired with Bang & Olufsen headphones to conjure their customized Audi model from thin air in virtual reality.
At the moment, through the virtual reality experience, browsers can check out the external features of a vehicle including its headlights and taillights, open the doors and trunk, check the components under the hood and even get to sit in the driver’s seat, according to a statement made by Thomas Zuchtriegel, project manager with Audi Digital Retail Solutions, during the CES Show.
Earlier, it was not possible to provide online users with virtual test drives as virtual reality was not scalable. Oculus Rift caused a paradigm shift and was initially used by the Audi team before they switched to the HTC headset. With Oculus Rift, though, it was not possible to walk around the vehicle.
Audi has already tried out the virtual test drive feature through three dealerships in Brazil. While Audi is planning to use the HTC Vive version at flagship dealerships like the Audi City London store, it will implement the Oculus Rift version through other dealerships.
The virtual reality system uses a high-end graphics engine developed by ZeroLight. The high-end HP PC workstations are powered by two Nvidia graphics cards. Nvidia came on board the project at an early stage. The processing power of the system allows 3D models of the vehicles to appear in virtual reality at a rate of 90 frames per second with nearly zero latency. Thus, it is possible for customers to see exact replicas of what they will be ultimately buying.
As new models are introduced, the latest vehicle configurations will be added to the system to mke it possible for customers to test drive every single make and model that Audi has. Updates are made in real time as the system connects directly to Audi’s IT network.
With this move, Audi has seized the initiative when it comes to virtual reality and is streets ahead of the competition. Though currently you only get to sit in the driver’s seat, the day is probably not too far off when you can actually take your virtual Audi for a spin on your driveway.
Hamid Moaref has always been fascinated by cars and the automotive industry. His family has a longstanding association with the industry and has been in the tire business for the past 35 years. Raised in Dubai, Hamid attended Capilano University in Vancouver where he graduated with a BBA in marketing before attending an intensive course in magazine publishing in 2005. He has been the publisher and chief editor of Tires & Parts magazine for the past ten years.
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