Technology: Virtual Reality in the car: Another world

For many drivers, the arrows, lines and traffic signs that appear from the various displays are still quite strange.

Technology: Virtual Reality in the car: Another world

For many drivers, the arrows, lines and traffic signs that appear from the various displays are still quite strange. Volkswagen was probably a bit hasty in opting for an extremely small instrument unit in its current ID family and wanted to display the most important information in the driver's field of vision via a head-up display. Audi and Skoda had to follow suit with their MEB models. But that's not all, because the projections into the windshield can be expanded to include virtual reality if desired. This means that the driver has the feeling of being right in the middle of the action thanks to the interaction of eyes, projection and surroundings. Instead of a boring arrow on the navigation screen or in the instrument unit indicating that the next street is to the right in 200 meters, the arrow visually guides the driver and car into the street. The pilot no longer has to look at the displays behind the steering wheel and in the middle of the dashboard, but can be guided as if by magic.

It sounds simple and in reality it's hardly any more complicated - if you put your mind to it. Because many users have been used to normal arrow displays for years and decades, their own eyes are sometimes reluctant to leave the familiar formats. It's annoying when the cockpit displays, like those on the Audi Q4 Etron, VW ID4 or the newly revised Skoda Enyaq, are too small because too much information is reflected on a display that is far too small.

The technical heart of the augmented reality head-up display is a so-called Picture Generation Unit, which is hidden inside the dashboard. A bright LCD display sends the beams of rays onto two mirrors, with special optics separating the near and far planes from each other. The mirrors direct the rays onto a concave mirror with electrical adjustment. From there, the information is sent to the windshield and into the driver's field of vision. The so-called AR Creator serves as the image generator and adjusts the placement of the symbols to suit the surroundings. The front camera, radar sensors and navigation map provide the necessary framework data for the overall technical structure.

Over the years, users have become conditioned to large displays in their own living room or at their desk at home - the bigger, the better. It's no wonder that contemporary displays now have sizes between 13 and 17 inches or, in luxury models like a Cadillac Escalade, are interwoven to a total size of more than 30 inches. Where the journey is headed is shown not only by the new vehicles from China and especially Asia, but also by a future study such as the Mercedes EQXX, whose large display extends from the left A-pillar to the right and can be used to display almost any type of content. The MBUX Virtual Assistant, which the Stuttgart-based company will present at the CES in Las Vegas at the beginning of 2024, provides a concrete outlook. The display itself, with AI support, provides an outlook on the control unit of the new electric series, which will replace the A-Class family from the end of 2024 - purely electrically.

BMW is also preparing for new display technology for its new 3 Series and the “new class” product family that will follow in 2025. For the first time, there will be a head-up display that not only shows the driver, but also the entire width of the windshield, initially at a height of around 15 centimeters. “This is more than a vision. We are bringing this innovation to the new class. Our customers will be able to experience this completely new technology in their vehicles as early as 2025,” explains BMW CEO Oliver Zipse. The individual functions are operated via voice, steering wheel and touch function on displays. It can be assumed that even textile surfaces in the doors could soon play a role in the operation of comfort functions. In this technology center at Mountainview in California's Silicon Valley, the ideas continue for several years. While gesture control is unlikely to become widespread, work is being done here, among other things, on three-dimensional digital displays that are particularly easy for the driver to find their way around, even without eye contact.

But virtual reality is not just about the driver and his co-pilot. What is not possible in the front row of a vehicle leaves possibilities for the rear. For some time now, Audi has been offering a rear entertainment system with VR glasses in the second row of many models. You can immerse yourself in different media formats such as games or films using virtual reality glasses. In contrast to other rear-seat entertainment that is played via screen systems, the various content adapts to the car's driving movements in real time. To use the Holoride system, a corresponding headset must be paired with the vehicle via Bluetooth. BMW entertains its rear passengers in the 5 or 7 Series without VR glasses, but rather with a large screen that folds down from the roof.

Behind Audi's Holoride system is a technology that adapts virtual content to the vehicle's driving movements in real time: if the car drives through a right-hand bend, for example, the spaceship in the imaginary world also flies to the right. If you accelerate, the spaceship also accelerates. The development of this innovative VR or XR technology (XR: Extended Reality) was developed by Audi and the tech start-up Holoride and is now entering mass production. The entertainment program of the future is available through the latest expansion stage of the modular infotainment system in almost the Ingolstadt-based company's entire model range in the main markets in Europe, North America, Japan and China.