Audi is getting into the entertainment business — well, sort of...
The car-maker is collaborating with Disney Games and Interactive Experiences this week at CES to demonstrate how a car's backseat can be more than just a place to hangout while you travel to your final destination.
Using a virtual reality headset in this limited-run experience, passengers could shoot lasers at asteroids and drones, and fly through space with Marvel's Rocket Raccoon guiding them around.
Iron Man also makes an appearance and flies alongside the car. But this isn't simply sticking on a headset and pressing play — the VR world matches what's happening with the car in the real world. If the car turns, so does the rocket ship. You brake suddenly, so does the game.
Audi said this is what happens "when a car becomes more than just a car." It certainly seems targeted to younger kids bored in the back, but it also opens up possibilities for ride-hailing riders and eventually autonomous vehicle passengers.
A demo video showed a passenger collecting points for every pedestrian that crossed the sidewalk in front of the car at a stop sign — real pedestrians that in this AR/VR world turned into cute chicks crossing the road. (Yes, we hear the joke.) This could go beyond gaming, such as with relaxation experiences floating in the clouds or immersive movies.
Audi also announced at CES a new startup, Holoride, that it's investing in and building to bring the in-car VR experience like the Disney one to Audi and other cars. It's also developing an open platform to create more VR games and experiences meant for the car. The future Holoride CEO Nils Wollny said, "the street turns into the canvas." Holoride launches as a company in February and hopes to have experiences like games and movies available for passengers within the next three years.
Back in the Audi e-tron — the company's new all-electric SUV — I strapped into an Oculus Rift headset (Audi anticipates a headset-agnostic platform in the future) and grasped a remote and launched into space as part of the available-only-at-CES game, Marvel’s Avengers: Rocket’s Rescue Run. As Disney's Mike Goslin, the lead for advanced development, said, "the car becomes your ship."
After two laps at the Speed Vegas race track, I was sufficiently woozy, but very entertained. I felt like I'd gone on ride on Space Mountain or another Disney roller coaster. I'd meant to peek out from under the headset during the 5-minute ride, but I was too immersed in the space adventure. I think I had a virtual mission, but I was too busy exploring and feeling like I was flying. Fireworks even exploded in front of me at the end.
Audi claims matching the car movements with the VR journey makes for a less sickness-inducing experience, but it's still VR. You can't get away from the pitfalls of the platform, which is the problem no matter how well matched the backseat is for this type of experience. You're out of touch underneath the headset, lost to the outside world and disconnected from the driver, fellow passengers, and reality.
I also feel bad for the human driver who misses out on the fun and is stuck in traffic instead of shooting down drones. We need those self-driving cars now.