Virtual reality is, so far, mainly driven by dynamic forays into interactive gaming, but automakers presenting at the New York Auto Show are harnessing the technology to bring the public closer to the automotive world.
Both Toyota and Chrysler integrated the Oculus Rift into elaborate installations at the show, with demonstrations that managed to merge informative content with entertainment.
Toyota’s Distracted Driving Simulator puts you behind the wheel of a real Corolla LE ECO, which is connected to an Oculus Rift headset, the car’s steering wheel and a pair of headphones. Once the simulation begins, you’re placed behind the wheel of a virtual car on a city street and challenged to drive while all manner of distractions attempt to throw you off course.
How so? Your VR experience comes with two other virtual passengers — one in the back seat and one riding shotgun — who pepper you with commentary, including requests to read a smartphone text message from a friend while you’re driving. All this happens while loud music blasts from the car’s virtual interior speakers. The combination of the highly sensitive steering wheel and the surrounding noise actually does a great job of demonstrating how dangerous distracted driving can be — I crashed four times.
On the other side of the show floor, Chrysler used the VR device to take the public on a virtual tour of its factory floor.
Situated inside a real 2015 Chrysler 200C, when you slide the Oculus Rift headset on, you’re then placed inside a virtual vehicle and a soothing voice introduces you to the simulation.
Afterward, you’re presented with a large blue button which, when you focus your gaze on it, initializes the program and takes you into a VR version of Chrysler’s auto factory. After a few seconds, the car explodes into component pieces, complete with an unsettling seat rumble. Those pieces then turn into interactive menus that let you explore the factory in greater detail.
Unlike some major companies that have tried to ride the VR bandwagon by constructing weak 360-degree promotion video experiences for the Oculus Rift, Toyota and Chrysler have managed to deliver on some of the early promise of VR.
Neither experience is set to be made available in consumer auto show rooms anytime soon, but with this level of integration so early in the new rise of VR, we can probably expect more virtual driving experiences from auto companies in the coming months.