Virtual Reality: Technology’s Next Disruptor


January 21, 2016

By Kristine Andersen, Vice President, GLG Automotive

Imagine test-driving your next car on your mobile phone from the comfort of your living room. When people think about virtual reality (VR), they tend to think about video games. But for a number of industries, including the automotive space, VR will be the most disruptive technology we’ve seen in 30 years.

So says David De Martini, GLG expert and former head of publishing for Facebook-owned Oculus. Recently, at the Connected Car Expo at the Los Angeles Auto Show, I sat down with David and a group of automotive executives representing six of the top ten Automotive OEMs, as well as a number of top ten Tier 1 suppliers, to discuss what’s next for VR and its impact on the future of the car. Here’s what David shared:

What’s next for VR?

  • In the next 12 to 18 months, VR devices and content will take giant leaps forward. As companies ramp up production and device sales, developers will continue to focus on camera resolution for filming content and cordless options for VR devices.
  • Mobile development will catch up to PC. Right now, mobile devices and laptops aren’t capable of running fully-immersive VR applications. However, mobile processing speed is doubling every six months and once display abilities advance and battery life extends, VR will become increasingly viable on mobile. Until then, immersion through PC-based systems leads the way.
  • VR content will have a new home. VR will create an arena of immersive social interactions that are currently dominated by social media incumbents like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, which is already working aggressively on VR video sharing. But as companies like GoPro invest heavily in technology to improve camera quality, we will see new competition in the race to house VR content.
  • And some short-sighted backlash. Even as VR becomes more functional on mobile devices and PCs, skeptics will be quick to write off VR technology as a tool for anything but the gaming industry. But innovative leaders will find ways to use VR in many industries. “Put a VR device on and you will immediately think of several applications relevant to your customer,” David told the group. Mobile functionality will also make VR more attractive and usable beyond the gaming space.

What are the VR applications in the automotive space?

  • Online sales support. In the next few years, before we have true autonomous vehicles on the roads, the most obvious applications for VR is as a sales tool. As camera resolution improves, customers will be able to simulate the driving experience of different cars through VR, thereby supporting emerging online sales channels as alternatives to dealerships and traditional online media.
  • Improved training tools. We’ve already seen Augmented Reality (AR) (a real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory inputs such as sound, video, graphics, or GPS data) used as a driver-training tool for simulating real-life situations and teaching safe driving. Soon, VR will replace or supplement AR in these functions, and insurance companies will jump at the chance to use VR simulations for new drivers. We are also starting to see VR replace technical manuals and user function training.
  • Increased demand for travel. People wrongly assume that VR will decrease travel. They say: “If I can put on goggles and see Hollywood or New York City, why would I drive there?” But VR isn’t equipped for social interactions yet, and right now it’s a lonely experience. You may be able to put goggles on and see the Grand Canyon, but you’re seeing it alone. VR will inspire people to drive to the places they see virtually so they can experience them with others.

VR will transform every industry that’s visual. Yes, that includes gaming and video sharing, but it also includes automobiles and travel. As devices become more powerful and VR becomes readily accessible, it will become the new norm for content creation and delivery. The industry leaders of tomorrow will be those who find innovative uses for VR in their products today.