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The XR Innovations Happening in the Automotive Space

The world is changing. In the last couple of years, digital transformation, new technologies, and evolving customer expectations have pushed virtually every business into a rapid state of evolution. Few sectors are under more pressure than the automotive industry.

For decades, automotive companies have been quick to adopt and explore new digital innovations. After all, consumers are constantly searching for faster, more efficient, and safer vehicles. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of automotive brands experimenting with new fuel sources, autonomous vehicles, and artificial intelligence.

Now, one of the core technologies powering the new automotive age appears to be “extended reality”. XR solutions are giving vehicle manufacturers and sellers new opportunities to accelerate production processes, enhance customer service, and even improve employee training.

In fact, one element of XR, Virtual Reality, is set to reach a value of around $14.7 million by 2027 for the automotive space alone. So, how exactly are automotive brands leveraging this new landscape?

1.   Using XR to Enhance Training

Countless car dealerships and manufacturers are currently in the process of upskilling and reskilling their teams, in the hopes of driving faster innovation. Jaguar Land Rover, for instance, recently committed to launching a new upskilling program for more than 29,000 employees.

Regular training and education are crucial in the automotive landscape for numerous reasons. The right training can help employees to access and utilise new tools for the creation of advanced protypes and innovations. Educational tools can also help to improve company revenue, by helping teams to develop the soft skills they need to interact effectively with consumers.

Unfortunately, delivering traditional training in a world of hybrid, distributed workers is easier said than done. That’s why innovative automotive brands are embracing the XR landscape instead. Even before the pandemic hit, companies like Volkswagen were investing in VR to train team members in more immersive, engaging experiences. Today’s innovators are leveraging XR to train team members in vehicle assembly, production line best-practices, and even vehicle maintenance.

For instance, BMW has a series of VR courses available for professionals, covering areas like workplace planning, gaining knowledge and mechanical qualifications, and leveraging design data.

2.   Vehicle Innovation

XR is also helping automotive companies to explore the next generation of vehicle innovation. For instance, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE was widely considered to be the first car in the world to deliver a next-level AR experience within the car environment. The GLE introduced users to an AR navigation screen, capable of displaying navigational instructions and data in real-time, using a live camera view connected to the dashboard.

Going forward, companies are planning on bringing more of these powerful technologies into the windshield, to provide drivers with up-to-date information designed to improve driver safety and enhance road navigation. For instance, the PSA Groupe, known for owning several multi-national car brands like Citroen and Vauxhall, has already begun developing a heads-up display which projects information onto the windscreen of cars.

By implementing XR technology directly into vehicles, companies can provide consumers with access to more valuable information in-the-moment, which could help them with planning their journey, avoiding risks, and keeping pedestrians safe. WayRay recently shared some insights into its own AR car display, used on real-life roads, in authentic conditions.

3.   Improving Production Processes

Perhaps the most significant area most automotive companies are investing in when it comes to XR, is production and planning. Market leaders in the automotive sector are bringing team members together through virtual reality headsets, to allow for the development and production of prototypes with absolutely no resource waste.

In the past, designing new cars would be a time-consuming, expensive, and resource-intensive process. But with VR, companies can experiment with designs in an infinitely scalable world, creating digital twins of products they’ll eventually bring into the market. Companies like Ford have already developed their own virtual laboratories where designers and engineers can collaborate on car designs, and test the functionality of new components.

It’s not just VR that has the potential transform automotive production either. In engineering environments where professionals are responsible for putting car components together and configuring new systems, MR and AR can be infinitely beneficial. An AR manual can guide employees through complex manufacturing processes in real-time, with immersive insights.

4.   Enhanced Team Collaboration

Building the next generation of powerful automotive experience requires automotive companies to connect professionals from multiple different backgrounds. In the past, bringing a multitude of different staff members together in one space to create or review a car model would have been an expensive and time-consuming process. However, this isn’t the case in XR.

With virtual reality, companies can build digital twins of the production floor which allow people to work together simultaneously on the development of new car models. In 2018, for instance, Volkswagen started using virtual reality with HTC Vive to bring staff members together to work on the same model remotely, in real-time.

In the future, mixed reality innovations could allow professionals responsible for analysing the quality of new manufactured vehicles to essentially “teleport” into a production environment. They could see holographic representations of the vehicle they need to check in front of them, or even interact with a digital twin in virtual reality.

5.   Transformed Customer Experiences

Since the pandemic, automotive companies have seen a massive drop in physical showroom visits. Consumers are less comfortable with the idea of visiting a showroom in person than they once were, even after companies have officially “re-opened” their doors. Part of the reason for this is that shopping for a new car has notoriously been a complex experience. Most showrooms only have the option to showcase a handful of models, depending on their physical real estate.

Switching showrooms and customer experiences into the virtual world can lead to much more personalised and powerful experiences for consumers. For instance, Audi offers the "Audi VR experience", where customers can explore the details of a car using a virtual reality headset, and even make changes to trims, features and colours on-demand.

As VR solutions continue to evolve, companies are even beginning to explore new opportunities which allow customers to virtually “test drive” a vehicle without having to step inside of the car itself. Abarth launched the world’s first virtual reality test-drive experience in 2021.

Whether it’s for training, customer experience, or innovation, the automotive industry is rapidly taking full advantage of the various benefits the XR landscape has to offer. There’s no doubt the connection between XR and the automotive space will continue to evolve in the years ahead.