“Are we there yet?”
For generations, kids have longed for car rides to be shorter. Now, Germany’s Holoride wants to break the curse of juvenile impatience with the help of VR headsets that turn car trips into immersive gaming sessions and theme park rides.
Holoride unveiled its first consumer product in Germany on Wednesday. The company’s Pioneer’s Pack includes a HTC Vive Flow VR headset, a game controller, and an additional safety strap, as well as one year of access to Holoride’s software catalog, for a total of €699 ($690). Each month thereafter will cost €19.99.
Support for Holoride’s immersive motion entertainment platform is at launch limited to select 2023 Audi models, and the Pioneer Pack buyers will only have access to a handful of games as well as a few other apps. However, in the long run, the company plans to not only expand to cars made by other companies, but also beyond VR to support other media formats.
Ultimately, Holoride wants to become an immersive motion entertainment platform for the future of transportation.
From an Audi project to a consumer product
Holoride CEO Nils Wollny met his co-founders in 2015 at Audi, where he was in charge of the car maker’s digital business. Together, they explored ways to combine car data with VR. The first prototypes involved “a lot of chewing gum and duct tape,” as Wollny recently told Protocol. “We had gaming PCs in the trunk, hard-wired to the car,” he recalled. “We had the DK2 from Oculus, which was like a massive TV in your face, wired to the gaming PCs in the trunk.”
Those early prototypes may have been clunky, but they were good enough to show off to entertainment industry executives, who, according to Wollny, were instantly enamored with the idea of turning cars into moving theme parks. Hollywood also had some valuable feedback, with executives asking: How can this possibly scale if it is limited to Audi?
Wollny and his team took the feedback to heart, and Holoride spun out of Audi in late 2018. The German car maker remains a minority investor, but the company’s technology works with most modern cars. “We can very easily collaborate with car manufacturers and their data sets,” Wollny said. Holoride also has plans to expand to other VR headsets over time, but picked the HTC Vive Flow as a launch device because it feels more like a pair of glasses than a heavy headset.
Holoride – Turning vehicles into moving theme parks www.youtube.com
During a demo given to Protocol last week, the company showed off Cloudbreakers: Leaving Haven, a game developed by Schell Games in which players steer a flying robot through enemy skies. When the car turned, the motion was repeated in the game, and any acceleration and deceleration of the vehicle was also reflected in the gameplay. A second demo showed off smartphone mirroring, which made it possible to watch Netflix and YouTube videos on the Vive Flow.
Unlike VR gaming on the Quest, the apps shown didn’t support 6DOF tracking. The gameplay experience nonetheless felt surprisingly immersive, and the glasses-like form factor of the Vive Flow made wearing a headset in the backseat of a car a lot less awkward than your standard headset. Cloudbreakers was fun to play, and provided enough of a distraction to make one forget about the world outside of the vehicle, safe for the occasional pothole.
Wireless screen mirroring of a mobile phone didn’t add a whole lot of utility beyond media viewing, but may help people who struggle with motion sickness as it blocks out all the external visual cues that can make screen usage in a car a stomach-churning experience. (Wollny suggested that up to a third of car passengers struggle with some level of motion sickness.)
Bored teenagers and self-driving cars
With this mixture of games and video viewing, Holoride is squarely aiming for bored teens and their desperate parents as their primary launch audience. “This is made for Gen Z, teenagers on backseats,” Wollny said. Over time, the company wants to expand to other kinds of passengers, and also offer meditation and wellness apps and perhaps even productivity and work tools.
Holoride’s vision of the future of in-car entertainment seems to run counter to the way many car manufacturers approach the subject, which is all about turning the car into a second living room. One example: Earlier this year, BMW announced that it is adding a 31-inch 8K screen that runs Amazon’s Fire TV operating system to some of its cars.
Wollny countered that VR glasses can offer a more immersive experience with virtual screens that look much bigger, quipping that Holoride offered “180 inches for a fraction of the cost.”
Ultimately, Holoride’s approach is also about envisioning a different future of mobility. Instead of turning cars into personal screens, the company wants to give people the option to bring their personal big-screen experience to any vehicle, including those you may only use for a single ride, be it through ride-hailing, car sharing, or self-driving robotaxis.
“In the future, people will switch cars more often, but the personal device always stays with you,” Wollny said. “That’s why we are extending the car to the personal device, and not the personal device to the car.”
Car makers and tech companies alike have struggled to make autonomous driving a reality, with recent headlines suggesting a windy road ahead. This also means that drivers will have to keep their eyes on the road, making something like Holoride a passenger-only solution for the foreseeable future. Wollny didn’t seem too concerned by this, suggesting that 1.3 billion people ride as passengers in cars every day.
Wollny also said that Holoride was looking to eventually expand beyond VR, and offer audio and other media experiences that may work for drivers as well.
“We are not a VR company,” he said. “We built a motion- and location-aware platform for content in moving vehicles.” This could even involve using the car’s cabin lights or massage seats for feedback. “It could bring a new level of immersion to the interiors of cars.”