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With all the recent interest in augmented reality (AR) and the metaverse, car companies are looking for AR elements in vehicles. For example, an increasing number of in-car infotainment systems have now integrated AR as part of their augmented GPS navigation systems, displaying holographic arrows on a live image feed from the front of the car.
Some automakers are trying to take this adoption of AR a step further by bringing the metaverse into vehicles. The introduction to the in-car experience can be through interactive holographic windshields or by projecting avatars onto passenger seats. While this provides opportunities for entertainment and education, it also opens the door to distraction and even more pervasive advertising.
The use of AR in cars was limited until recently. The first AR head-up display (HUD) was the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system, which was produced in 2018 in the Mercedes A-Class. The GPS marks exits and final destinations visible on the internal displays, along with potential hazards such as potholes, pedestrians and other vehicles on the road. Since its introduction, other companies including BMW, Continental and Hyundai have introduced AR in their own infotainment systems.
There are still no commercially available vehicles with AR HUDs directly on the windshield, but there are a few concept cars that have shown the technology. For example, WayRay developed the Holograktor, which is described as a “metaverse on wheels” due to its heavy reliance on AR technology. It is an electric driving concept car that can be controlled remotely from an AR pod by a qualified driver, giving the car a sense of autonomy and avoiding the currently stunted fully autonomous driving systems. WayRay founder and CEO Vitaly Ponomarev has said he hopes the car will be released by 2025, possibly with a major automaker, but has also said the Holograktor could instead be used as an example for other OEMs looking to make similar cars. with WayRay’s AR technology.
The car promises some entertainment options: The seats come equipped with joysticks that can be used to play games on the windshield AR HUDs with others in the metaverse, and it even comes with a Guitar Hero-esque online karaoke game. The advertising options are also there. According to Ponomarev, “The idea is that you can go with Uber Black, Uber SUV or Uber Holograktor. And if you go with the Holograktor, your ride will be subsidized by sponsored content, so the price will be much lower.”
It’s unclear whether consumers want ads to be so visibly incorporated into their travels. It can be useful to have some sponsored content on the windshields if you’re actively looking for a restaurant or museum, for example, but otherwise having ads constantly on your periphery can disrupt the privacy some people are looking for in the ride -hailing experience.
Since one of the selling points of the Holograktor is that it learns your routes, habits and preferences and can even anticipate your next trip, the problem of data usage needs to be addressed. With the ever-growing catalog of misconduct by Internet companies, regulators and consumers alike are beginning to question how data is handled. If Holograktor offers the collected data to technology companies and other advertisers, it can result in highly personalized and potentially invasive advertisements. With public trust in Big Tech companies at incredibly low levels, it’s not clear whether consumers are willing to give up this data for a lower fare.
Nissan has also taken a step into the metaverse with its I2V Invisible to Visible AR concept, which it launched at CES 2019. The system highlights obstacles that may not be apparent to the driver via an in-vehicle display to improve safety and driver comfort. If the driver wears AR glasses, people with the system can also appear in the passenger seat of the vehicle as a 3D avatar. This could be a family member or friend to keep you company on a long drive, or a local guide to answer questions and make recommendations. Nissan hopes to roll out the technology in its vehicles from 2025.
Again, the new social and educational opportunities that can arise from this are exciting. Merging the real and virtual worlds allowed individuals to travel at home with friends anywhere in the world. Those usually long and boring drives can then be interrupted by the avatars of your loved ones. Drivers could experience the world around them through the eyes of a local, or even in a completely different time period via AR overlays.
However, the main issue – and the more general barrier to widespread adoption of the metaverse and AR in vehicles – is that being able to see the outside world clearly is a safety-critical issue when a human is driving. If the AR overlay is not accurate enough, drivers can be misled and cause accidents. If the overlays are too distracting, drivers can miss important information about obstacles and obstacles. These issues should be of central concern to auto companies looking to deploy AR in vehicles.
Emilio Campa is an analyst in the theme team at data analysis and consultancy GlobalData.
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