Toyota and Oculus Rift Put Teens Through a VR Experience in Distracted Driving

Jennifer Miller, Fast Company
January 15, 2015

What if you could practice handling distractions on the road without dangerous real-world consequences? As part of its Teen Drive 365 project, which educates parents and teens about safe driving, Toyota has launched an Oculus Rift experience that does just that. Debuting at the Detroit Auto Show this week, this virtual reality simulation put a teenage driver inside a real stationary car, equips him with a VR headset and then forces him to navigate various distractions on the road. There’s loud music, road construction, sirens, yapping friends in the back seat and a smart phone with incoming texts. Drivers are challenged to keep their eyes on the road; if they don’t—say, they look at their phone screen—they’re likely to crash.‍

The simulator, created in partnership with Brightline Interactive and 360i, boasts 360° head tracking, which lets you look around at the inside of the car and the road ahead. Each movement of your head is tracked in real time. There’s also a 100° field of view, which stretches out the virtual world beyond your peripheral vision. The 3D audio makes the blaring music and yelling friends feel close and personal. But despite these innovations, the experience doesn’t really mirror actual driving. The animation style is far more basic than most video games on the market and the music is kind of dinky. Where’s the bass-thumping hip hop and the deafening heavy metal? And instead of one seamless view of the car and road, the driver sees mirror images of the virtual world, one projected into each eye of the headset. It’s “the same way your eyes perceive images in the real world,” explains the Toyota press release. But most of us don’t see double. If we did, we’d get into a lot more accidents.

Still, the simulator is an important step into auto safety education. It may not feel quite real, but its lesson is obvious—and it’s a lot more novel than your average driver’s ed course. You can try it out for yourself at one of many nation-wide auto shows. Just be sure than when you drive home in a real car, you’re no longer seeing double.

[Photo: courtesy of Toyota]

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