Augmented reality

Virtual Reality on the Road – How Some Companies are Using VR-AR in Motor Vehicles

Lucía Vera 1


As virtual reality (VR) becomes more mainstream, it is being used in a wide range of industries and applications. Currently, VR is making its way into the automotive industry. From real racers competing against virtual gamers or autonomous driving intelligence to enhance driving experience, to the newly HUD that can be integrated in a car for drive assistance. All of these have the main goal of taking advantage of the new technologies, in particular by taking advantage of VR and AR in driving and motor vehicles.

Reality vs. Simulation

A recent project, where reality and simulation meet, is the Honda Civic Type R, a collaboration between Honda and Microsoft’s Turn 10 Studios. By combining virtual and augmented reality, Turn 10 placed a YouTube gamer into a simulation to race against a real driver. Dubbed the R vs. R competition, the professional racer strapped to a modified type R vehicle with a unique windshield that allowed him to view his simulated rival. The windshield includes with mixed reality technology and a GPS system. Competing on Georgia’s Road Atlanta Raceway, the gamer raced on the rendered track inside Turn 10’s Forza Motorsport 7, which was then projected onto the real racers windshield as he drove it in reality.


(Image from the article at the web page [1])

Essentially, Honda recreated the “ghost” racing system that has been in video games for years. However, it must be noted that this isn’t exactly a fair race. Forza Motorsport is an arcade racer. While being fun and even challenging, it doesn’t match up to racing a real car at high speeds. That said, the real racer ended up pulling ahead at the last second, winning the contest and proving that simulated drivers still can’t beat a true master.

While it was designed as an advertisement, Honda’s concept is still a wonderful way to show how augmented reality can be used positively. Racers could use this windshield technology to compete against their best times or event against other racers across the world.

How Your Car Thinks

Autonomous driving is an up and coming feature, but companies are having trouble marketing it correctly. Although the idea sounds simple on paper, the inner workings haven’t been explained clearly to the press or the public.

Civil Maps, a startup that focuses on creating crowdsourced maps for autonomous cars, implemented AR develop a solution. Basically, their technology shows you the “brain” of the automated vehicle. Though a bit basic, Civil Maps provides a visual representation of the car’s “eyes” via a monitor.


(Image from Civil Maps web page [2])

It does so by overlaying colors and wireframe boxes on essential landmarks like street signs, traffic lights, and other cars. Much like an in-game heads-up display, these overlays make it easy to explain what the vehicle is processing and its relevance level.

Accessibility is critical, and Civil Maps is delivering that with their technology.

Civil Maps company tries to make autonomous vehicles affordable and possible using a new technology to teach the vehicle how to see and understand everything around it. Their approach has several advantages:

  • Affordable in-vehicle hardware: their lightweight maps optimize the hardware used and prioritize the information needed to reduce the CPU consumption and the cost of the hardware needed.
  • Updated vehicles: due to the tiny maps used, the vehicle can be updated over-the-air (OTA) constantly when they are in movement. Autonomous vehicles need to be updated constantly to ensure a much safer driving.
  • Map creation independence: all Civil Maps-enabled vehicles can help in the maps maintenance and update, creating a very important network of vehicles capable of sending update information over the air.


A Real-Life HUD

Navdy is employing augmented reality in a simple but useful way. Through its small device, Navdy created a real-life HUD that connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and shows information on its transparent screen. This device has a clear market opportunity, since it minimizes distractions, offers very good features for hands-free calls and offers the possibility to upgrade older cars without expensive or complicated changes.

Not only does it show maps, landmarks, and other useful information, but you can also check your text messages, take phone calls, and even set new GPS routes. Navdy’s device suits multiple AR applications, and they have plans for many more features in the future. Like Waze, the tool will eventually show traffic conditions or push popular places for you to check out.

MCity Training

Back to autonomous cars, the University of Michigan has been designed an augmented reality technology used to “test” the engineering of the car. The vehicle is placed on a closed track, and AR portrays all sorts of situations including drunk drivers, wildlife, and traffic jams to see how the car interacts. If it performs poorly, the autonomous vehicle fails the test and must be altered until it can pass.

U of M is tackling one of the most significant problems in autonomous cars: testing. Yes, these vehicles can test against city traffic, other cars, and average pedestrians all the time. When it comes to massive jams, construction, or jaywalkers, things get a bit more difficult. Creating an entirely virtual environment to test these cars means that engineers can make great leaps in their field at a faster rate.



New Technology for New Car Concepts

New generations of cars with intelligent technology are coming, including autonomous driving, intelligent navigation and all kind of security and automatic control. In the automotive area PREMO is one of the preferred suppliers with 53 years of design experience and expertise in the field. It’s a leading technology provider, including:


(Image from PREMO web page. Passive Keyless Entry System (PKE))


(Image from PREMO web page. Components in a PKE system).

  • Passive Security: a complete security on board requires the autonomous control of the vehicle components. PREMO offers solutions for Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems and RFID anti-theft immobilizers that can be integrated in a car, improving its security and the automatic control of key car components.

It is possible to check the PREMO solutions for Automotive Wireless Sensors and their experience in the innovation for more efficient, autonomous and intelligent cars.


(Image from PREMO web page. Automotive Wireless sensors)

Also, in the VR/AR segment, PREMO can contribute to new emergent solutions where the VR technology is combined with the real sensation of driving [3]. There are experiments, as the VR-OOM, where the user sits in the passenger seat of a car and a trained driver is driving. With a VR Headset, sensors for tracking the position and a Leap Motion device to control the hands movement, it is possible to get a very immersive experience in 3D in controlled virtual environments.


(Image from VR-OOM paper [3])

EM Sensors as 3DCoilCubesTM and 3DCoilsTM can be used for these scenarios depending on the needs and the location.


(3DCoil products from PREMO web pages)

The user can wear a VR headset with an EM sensor placed in a comfortable location in the glasses and an additional EM sensor can be implemented in the wheel. With a base station inside the car it is possible to track where the user is locking, motions in their head, the motion of the car’s wheel and more. This tracking information will be very useful in virtual reality simulations inside a virtual driving scenario similar to the described in VR-OOM, where the user has a virtual experience while the real car is moving thank to the “trained real driver”.



(Diagram describing the EM sensor usage in a virtual driving condition)



Overall, alternate reality technology is pushing the innovation of motor vehicles faster than ever before. It can be used not only to train professional drivers, but mixed reality is also making the road a safer place to be. With heads-up-displays for drivers and additional testing for autonomous cars, dangers on the road may soon be part of the past.



[1] Article “Honda Mixed Reality Race Pits Pro Driver Against Pro YouTuber”
[2] Civil Maps web page:
[3] David Goedicke, Jamy Li, Vanessa Evers, Wendy Ju. VR-ROOM: Virtual Reality On-Road driving simulation. Proceeding of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Paper No. 164. Montreal QC, Canada April 21-26, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-4503-5620-6.


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