CES 2019 Video Shows How Next Gen Automotive Tech Will Evolve From Gaming

The video games built in to Tesla vehicles might seem like gimmicks to get Elon Musk’s followers hyped on Twitter, but they’re actually evidence of the automaker’s foresight. After all, once we have autonomous vehicles, future cars will be sold based less on what they’re like to drive, and more on the kinds of stuff you can do while you’re riding them.

In other words, the car companies of the future — if they’re to exist in the first place — will have to get a lot more fun. Japanese automaker Nissan captured these aspirations in a January 3 announcement at CES 2019 which depicts riding a car as an immersive, video game-like experience. To, ahem, drive this point home, Nissan even partnered with a gaming company to build the interface for its futuristic, augmented reality-enhanced windshields.

Nissan’s decision to partner with Unity Technologies — known for its work on Cuphead and Hearthstone — is hardly the only example of automotive and entertainment collaborations on display. Nor is it the most audacious.

nissan unity smart car
I2V could overlay the driving data of another car so you can say the best way to get somewhere.

So what would it be like to take a ride Nissan’s proposed “Invisible-to-Visible” (I2V) car system?

How Nissan’s AR Tech Is Inspired by Gaming

The interface Nissan shared looks like an automobile version of the popular PC-game VRChat. The video above demonstrates how the I2V concept could allow for self-driving car passengers to summon avatars of friends, family, or favorite anime character to chat with while they’re in transit.

“Cars will be autonomous giving drivers more time for human interaction,” said Nissan researcher Tetsuro Ueda in the video. “Your driving companion can be anyone even if they can’t physically be with you in the car.”

nissan smart car system
VR avatar riding shotgun!

Nissan and Unity also want to make your surroundings customizable too. I2V drivers could use AR to filter out bad weather like they were adding a filter to a picture on Snapchat or Instagram. This could immediately help during bad low-visibility situation but it opens doors to autonomous car entertainment systems.

Imagine sitting in a self-driving car while you’re driving through a tunnel. Instead of staring out into darkness, passengers could use I2V to overlay scenic views of nature.

Nissan’s vision of autonomous vehicles poses them as endlessly customizable AR chat pods.

Play VR Games From the Back on an Audi

The unlikely trio of Audi, Disney, and Marvel have come together to create Holoride, a virtual reality experience in the backseat of a car. This high-tech taxi pastime was first announced at CES 2019, and attendees had the chance to try it out in a new, all-electric Audi E-Tron. Journalists and tech enthusiasts got to strap on an Oculus Rift and play a Guardian of the Galaxy-themed game titled “Rocket’s Rescue Run.”

The goal is to create a VR game or movie that can entertain passengers for however long they’re traveling, something Holoride calls “elastic content.” Think of it like virtual choose your own adventure while you’re driving to the airport.

How Holoride envisions its product being fully incorporated in the backseat of Ubers.

“The infrastructure will change, the architecture or vehicles will change, the way we access mobility will change,” Holoride co-founder Nils Wollny told [The Verge]. “And, most importantly, the experience will change. So the passenger moves into the focus, and content — especially entertainment — will be a major driving force for the mobility experience of the future.”

This could immediately be applied to long Uber rides to avoid awkward small talk. But the long-term vision is to make this available in self-driving cars.

Your Windshield Will Become a Screen

Anyone that’s ever bought a racing game has likely played a checkpoint mini-game, where you have to drive through two flags to advance in a race. Switzerland-based tech company WayRay wants to use cars windshields to give drivers that same experience IRL.

WayRay demonstrated how adding an AR, heads up display (or HUD) in modern-day cars could help people drive safer, teach novice drivers the ropes, and be used to display entertainment content if cars ever become fully autonomous.

wayray augmented reality cars
Examples of what drivers could see while using WayRay's AR driving system.

The company put its system in a Genesis G80 to prove that it doesn’t require any fancy vehicles to be implemented. AR in cars is possible but widespread implementation is likely won’t happen any time soon.

CES 2019: Is It Too Early to Put Games in Cars?

Any of these concepts would put a twinkle in the eye of sci-fi fans or tech enthusiasts, but road laws will pose a significant hurtle to anyone who wants to try this tech out for themselves in the near future.

Nissan’s I2V requires drivers to wear a bulky, AR headset. That might be ok for someone riding shotgun — like in Holoride — but there’s no chance traffic laws would let that slide for drivers, even if they were using the headset drive more safely, for example by altering the weather or conjuring directions. Some states even outlaw headphones and earbuds while driving, yet another factor which makes the gap between demonstrating the tech’s promise — and actually implementing it — particularly large.

However, these CES booths are proof that automakers, tech firms, and entertainment companies are increasingly all on the same page: Trends in home entertainment increasingly make sense inside cars.

Many of these ideas are still in their prototype stage, but it’s looking good for gaming inside of your future SUV. Until then, Tesla drivers can get a taste of the future by playing Atari games while they’re parked in their Model 3s

Media via Nissan / Unity Technologies, Holoride, WayRay, Nissan / Unity Technologies