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Virtual Reality Test Drives: Are They the Future When Buying A Car?

By Thomas Bradley of MediaWorks

The presence of technological innovation is forever being felt within the automotive industry. Whether it be convenience, efficiency, or safety, technology is consistently being studied and applied to make driving a unique experience as well as improving the relationship between driver and vehicle.

Now, these advances have been introduced into the car buying process. Automotive dealers are continually researching ways to combine the ever-growing technologies with buyers’ demands by offering new digital experiences. 

Buying is a process, meaning consumers generally go through key stages before making a final decision to purchase. The process involves five key stages: recognition of needs and wants, information search, evaluation of choices, purchase and post-purchase evaluation. 

This same buying process applies to the automotive industry. This will go from the initial interest or need, through researching vehicle specifications, comparing prices with different manufacturers online, testing the vehicle to validate its features before finally purchasing. It is fair to say that the virtual reality test drive is an innovative experience, which would fall between the evaluation phase and the actual purchase. 

Experts define virtual reality as an artificial technology which is used to create or access a virtual reality, giving the opportunity to simulate real-world situations. It aims to create a sensory experience and it often involves sight, touch, hearing, smell, or taste. In the automotive sector, the development of virtual reality has helped buyers to test a vehicle in a digital form.  

In this article we introduce the concept of Enter Sandbox, implemented on a virtual reality test drive of an Audi Q5 back in 2018. 

It is believed that the industry of virtual reality is rapidly expanding. Data from Statista predicts that the market size of consumer virtual reality is expected to increase from $6.2 billion in 2019 to over $16 billion by 2022.

Its expansion may well accelerate due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with the likes of French tech company Dassault Systems seeing an increased interest in its 3DExcite virtual showroom due to the virus. Using a combination of virtual and augmented reality, they can provide retailers with up-to-date product visuals and information online. A potential green tick for consumers reluctant to visit showrooms and forecourts and for retailers who need to claw back declining sales. 

Besides the benefits of avoiding unnecessary human interaction, wouldn’t it be good to know what a virtual reality experience in a car feels like? Start by picturing yourself in the following scenario. You’ve spent a few months researching a new vehicle you saw online, which you’re now considering purchasing. It’s brand new on the market so all you know about the car is that the exterior design suits your taste. 

So, you sit down one evening determined to find out more. You spend time browsing a variety of sites, read blog reviews, and look at the car’s full specification. You meticulously analyse engine options, in-car connectivity, parking systems, and options for Adaptive Cruise Control. You make your overall ‘must have’ list and ensure you have collected all the information to meet such requirements. Then you read about something you hadn’t heard of before. In the past an Audi Q5 has had its quattro drive technology virtually tested. So now you’re looking to experience the same thing, you wish to try that same real-time virtual drive in the car you’ve been studying. As much as this scenario sounds fanciful, it’s also real. 

Back in 2018, a Dutch company developed an in-store virtual reality experience by turning a physical sandbox into a virtual playground for car lovers. The creative agency’s idea was to recreate a situation that could take people back to childhood moments like playing with toy cars. Off the back of this, the creativity blossomed. 

In order to recreate a virtual environment that replicated a real driving experience, Enter Sandbox used a Kinect camera and an HTC Vive Lighthouse tracking system to scan every detail of a physical sandbox in 3D. 

Then, users were offered the unique experience of an Audi Q5 simulator, virtually taking the driver’s seat and a simulated driving wheel, while sound and engine noises contributed to making the test drive experience authentic. 

This is an example of innovative technologies that our society is proud to have witnessed. And while many remain firm on the idea that new automotive technologies such as artificial intelligence and driverless cars will never replace the traditional car industry, cutting edge technology such as virtual test drives show that technology is only going to go further, becoming more and more innovative.


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