The Virtual Training Car is a still-developing project that’s being used to train Audi’s salespeople. The idea is that rather than simply memorising an operations manual to equip them to tell customers about new driver assistance system on Audis, the salespeople can report their experiences of the systems in authentic situations.
“They can explain the systems from their heart, and not from a piece of paper,” says Martin Schulze Beerhorst, of Audi’s retail business development division.
So far the nascent VR system can only showcase one technology, namely the Audi pre-sense city emergency braking system, which applies the brakes if it identifies an obstruction that the driver hasn’t reacted to.
At the Audi Training Centre at Munich Airport, the German manufacturer let us loose in the A4 to experience it for ourselves. The centre has a large expanse of flat tarmac with nothing to hit – this is important when what the corners and obstacles your eyes are seeing aren’t actually there.
Immersing yourself in the world of Tron is simple: you get into the car and strap on the Oculus headset. The real cabin of the A4 is replaced by an uncannily accurate rendering of one.
The Audi rep next to me is rendered invisible on the passenger seat and – more worryingly – my arms and legs have disappeared, although I can still feel myself holding the steering wheel of the A4 and pressing the pedals, which is reassuring. It’s an auto, so no grappling for a gearstick.
I look up and around to get my bearings. The featureless asphalt has been replaced by a 3D rendering of the aforementioned German street, complete with shops, buildings, pedestrians milling about and a tasty looking virtual Audi R8 parked at one kerb.
As I look left and right, a head-tracker mounted on the rear seat measures my movements via an infrared beam that scans markings on the VR headset.
My real-life Audi guide releases the handbrake switch (I’m fumbling to find the real one in my virtual world) and instructs me to drive out of the car park and down the road. First up are some traffic cones, which I’m supposed to weave around. I feel a brief pang of guilt as I squash a couple of them, but quickly remember this is a virtual world.
I negotiate a tight roundabout. All the while, high-precision GPS is locating the Virtual Training Car on the driving surface with an accuracy of two centimetres. Together with a position sensor in the car, the GPS detects the car’s movements and that determines the position within the VR simulation.