Audi is expanding their VR dealership experience and testing has begun on a virtual training drive.
The German luxury automobile manufacturer is finally ready to bring their VR dealership experience to customers, having spent the last three years working on the simulation tool.
A Virtual Audi Dealership
Demonstrated at the 2016 Audi Tech Day in Munich, the Audi VR experience will allow you to virtually explore every last detail of a car in 3D 360-degrees just like you’re in a dealership. But in a way, this will be better than just walking around a showroom floor model, letting you select what car you want to experience, pick the color and options, view tech specs, and then drop the car into a preset environment. Some settings include Iceland, Paris — and even the moon.
The Audi VR experience will make use of both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headset, depending on where it will be shown, and will render vehicle data in real-time to show you the tiniest of details, such as the polish of the aluminum inlays or the various gloss levels of the paint finish depending on the position of the virtual light source.
For both Vive and Rift experiences, an Audi dealership consultant will request your desired configuration of the car, using a tablet to load every current model and equipment feature, from paint colors to wheels, exterior packages and seat upholstery to the infotainment modules.
The seated more compact version of the Audi VR experience will utilize the Rift and is designed for locations where space is limited. In this case, you will physically sit on a couch or an armchair in a dealership consultant’s office, starting you off behind the virtual steering wheel, but then transporting you to different positions outside the car.
The larger room-scale version is powered by the Vive and will be setup at the Munich airport. A play space of roughly 16 by 16 feet will be blocked off to let you move freely around the virtual car. This is where Audi says you’ll be able to toggle between a number of diverse VR environments like showing the car in Paris, Cannes, Iceland and the moon.
Prototype use of the Audi VR experience began in late 2014 but Audi only recently completed their last pilot phase in the past few months. Now with a green light, the automobile manufacturer will begin rolling out the VR experience to dealerships, with updated versions coming in the next few months.
The Audi Virtual Training Car
In addition to highlighting their VR dealership experience, Audi also showed off the Audi Virtual Training Car, an Audi A4 equipped with a virtual reality headset for the driver. The VR driving simulation relies on a heavily modified Oculus Rift DK2 headset and lets you experience realistic driving scenarios that would require emergency braking assistance.
But this isn’t your normal VR driving simulator one might expect, instead Audi is letting you experience their Pre Sense City technology all while driving behind the wheel of an actual moving car. The hope is that with this system, Audi dealers worldwide will be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Audi emergency braking assistance system to their customers convincingly and in rich detail.
During the demonstration, the Virtual Training Car moved along a wide-open testing ground with the driver in headset. The moment a pedestrian stepped into the car’s virtual path in the simulation, Audi Pre Sense City brought the car to an abrupt stop.
To fully immerse the driver in the simulation, a head tracker was mounted on the rear seat to measure the driver’s head movements via infrared tracking markers on the back of the Rift headset. A high-precision differential GPS located the Virtual Training Car on the driving surface with an accuracy down to two centimeters (0.8 in) and together with a position sensor in the car, detected the car’s movements to determine the precise position in the simulation. All of this was being run off a PC stored in the trunk of the Audi A4, sending data to the VR headset and to the touchscreen in front of the passenger seat. Should you as the driver leave the permissible course area, a warning is issued so that the trainer in the passenger seat can intervene, if necessary, via the parking brake.
Technologies for portraying virtual cars have been in use at Audi since 2012. But with new headsets on the market like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift making VR more accessible and scalable to dealership locations, this is probably the technology Audi and their customers have been waiting for to make the sometimes mundane task of car shopping — an experience you’ll never forget.