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Audi and Nissan to banish boredom in driverless cars using virtual reality

Hasan Chowdhury
Carmakers have been showing off virtual reality systems at a tradeshow in Shanghai.  - AP

Carmakers including Audi and Nissan are hoping to give driverless car passengers an escape from boredom by serving up virtual reality entertainment, according to industry executives.

The automotive sector’s leading executives have gathered together at a tradeshow in Shanghai this week to find ways of keeping boredom out of vehicles and ensuring passengers stay occupied.

“Once customers do not need to drive anymore… then the question is what kind of things can we offer inside this car,” Boris Meiners, a senior director of Audi’s digital business, told Reuters.

Passengers of the future will no longer have to take control of the wheel as leading carmakers prepare to rollout driverless cars.

Industry heavyweights such as Volkswagen, Daimler and Ford are all looking at the technology with keen interest, as well as Silicon Valley firms such as Uber and Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet.

Though there is still some time before the mass adoption of these vehicles, as regulatory hurdles still need to be overcome, industry leaders are already busy thinking about what the best immersive in-car entertainment systems will be.

Holoride, an Audi spinout focused on VR technology, showed what an immersive experience in an autonomous car might look like by highlighting a VR program that would take passengers underwater, allowing them to swim with whales as they travel to their destination.

Acceleration or changes in direction will be registered by a computer installed in the vehicle, which will relay the data to the VR system.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, Audi demonstrated VR glasses that could be used by passengers playing an interactive game involving characters from Marvel’s Avengers series.

Nissan presented a similar VR experience, which allows passengers wearing goggles to see and interact with a cartoon character during their journey.

“Rather than the driver, we want to focus on the riding experience for all passengers,” said Tetsuro Ueda, expert leader at the Nissan Research Centre.

“When it comes to the stage of autonomous driving, the driver’s control is less and less, and the interaction with the surrounding passengers is increasing.”

Despite the anticipation around driverless cars, there are a number of challenges that the industry must overcome, and immersive experiences will only be introduced once vehicles reach full autonomy.