Disney’s new Audi in-car VR entertainment: We give it a test drive

Disney's new Audi in-car VR entertainment: We give it a test drive
Earlier this week at CES 2019, Audi and Disney Games and Interactive Experiences revealed a new in-car entertainment system based around VR headsets. Once the system hits the market in the next few years, backseat passengers can wear VR goggles to play games or go through educational and interactive experiences specifically tailored for the car. At the SpeedVegas racetrack just south of the city proper, I had a short chance to try out the new system while riding in the back of the new Audi E-Tron EV.

The demo was called “Rocket’s Rescue Run” and was based on Marvel’s Avengers franchise, hence the Disney partnership. Bradley Cooper voiced Rocket Racoon, while Robert Downey Jr. was present as Iron Man as you tackled some vague and menacing threat from Thanos. The game was basically a rail shooter, with you blowing up ships and asteroids and all manner of spacefaring objects. You aim by moving your head and fire using a trigger. With all of the movements, it felt like a theme park ride more than a simple VR game.

The biggest difference between current VR games and what Audi and new tech startup Holoride are promoting is that these games are tailored specifically to a car. When a car turns, the game turns with it. All the sensations you see are matched with movements in the car. Audi’s research suggests that people are significantly less likely to get VR sickness when using the system in a car since your brain and body are experiencing the same sensations. I don’t have enough experience with VR to know where I stand, but I can say I felt fine after the SpeedVegas demo.

The demo was running on an Oculus Rift wired to a laptop in the E-Tron’s cargo area, though other VR headsets will work in the future. SDKs, or software development kits, will be sent out to various companies by the end of the year. The business model is a little unclear, but Holoride founder Nils Wollny suggested that a Netflix-like subscription service or an open app store were both being considered.

While Audi and Disney are the two big names attached right now, Holoride says the system will be open to any automaker that wants to use it. The system taps into the same mapping data Audi has been using for its autonomous technology, so the game will know when and where to adjust based on where the car is heading. Presumably other automakers will be able to use the same data or work with developers on exclusive content beyond games.

It was a neat demo that worked without a hitch, though Wollny admits the system won’t be ready until the next generation of VR headsets debut in the next few years. The game was fun to play around with, but I wonder how many parents are going to want to strap VR headsets on their kids’ heads while riding in the car.

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