Microsoft, Volvo Car to Bring Augmented Reality Into Showrooms

Volvo Microsoft HoloLens

HoloLens technology.

Source: Microsoft Corp.
  • HoloLens goggles to be used for safety demonstrations, design
  • Companies plan to collaborate on other auto technology

Would you test drive a car using a hologram?

Microsoft Corp. and Volvo Car Group, owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., are working together to bring Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented-reality goggles to Volvo showrooms next year to spruce up safety-feature demonstrations, car customization -- and yes, test drives.

In a prototype demonstration at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, the companies used HoloLens to show off Volvo’s new S90 mid-size luxury sedan, announced in September and set to be unveiled to the public at this year’s Detroit Auto Show. Using the device, the companies displayed full-size three-dimensional holograms of the car itself and cross-sections of its parts, as well as a holographic test-drive demonstration of the semi-autonomous driving system and its safety features.

Automotive Technology

Volvo is Microsoft’s first automotive partner for its ambitious HoloLens effort, and the two companies said they will work together to jointly develop future automotive technologies beyond HoloLens. Volvo Car Group, acquired by Geely in 2010, is trying to promote its reputation for Swedish design and focus on safety, and the HoloLens demonstrations offer ways to highlight these aspects beyond the traditional showroom experience.

“The opportunity with mixed reality is you can get under the skin of the car," said Thomas Andersson, vice president of global marketing for Volvo Car Group. "It’s a much richer experience with more texture to it." 

Safety features, such as automatic stopping for collision avoidance, can be hard to demonstrate in a real-life test drive. In a hologram designed to show the advantages of semi-autonomous driving, the driver gets a view of the car stopping on a dime to avoid a stalled vehicle and swerving around ice.

Microsoft is trying to line up corporate applications and customers for HoloLens, which it unveiled in January, and developer kits costing $3,000 will be delivered early next year. Such customers will be critical to securing broader adoption for HoloLens than for Microsoft’s earlier Kinect motion-sensor device -- which got a tryout in Nissan showrooms to demonstrate the 2013 Pathfinder. Microsoft has just finished an 11-city HoloLens tour in the U.S. and Canada, where it both demonstrated the device for consumers and hosted corporate customers, said Scott Erickson, Microsoft’s senior director for HoloLens.

Mock Showroom

To show off the prototype demonstrations, Microsoft converted a large, drab room in its conference center usually used for speakers or events into a mock Volvo showroom complete with stylish decor and smaller enclosed spaces. One hologram walked viewers through the key choices made by the cars’ designers, while another visualized all the colors and trims available -- useful in a showroom where there might be only one or two of each car model.

After designing a car, the user could view the vehicle in full-size and walk around all sides, although because of the limits on HoloLens’ field of view, it was a bit hard to do that without suddenly causing a front or rear bumper to disappear briefly.

Volvo may also add tools to let users sit in an actual car and put on the headset to take an augmented-reality test drive, said Björn Annwall, Volvo’s senior vice president of marketing, sales and service.

Using HoloLens also lets Volvo get new cars in front of customers quickly -- sometimes before they’re even manufactured.

“This one hasn’t even been built yet,” Annwall said. "So that’s another benefit of the system."

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