If your only driving experience involves gripping a steering wheel, you might want to check out Waymo’s VR 360 experience of the self-driving car. You could watch this using Google Cardboard, Daydream or Samsung’s popular Gear VR headset, but you can just as easily sit in a swivel chair and hold up your phone. It’s hard to call this VR, but it is a fascinating 360 immersive visualization of what Waymo’s self-driving car “sees” while getting itself down the road.
Needless to add, it sees a lot more than you do and is constantly calculating what the objects in our cluttered world most likely would do.
Waymo is Alphabet’s robocar subsidiary and one of the 50 plus companies working on the driverless car challenge. But the VR 360 experience of the self-driving car comes off less as a solution to the technical challenges and more as an effort to humanize it. It’s watching out for people. It’s anticipating what they will do. All so you’ll feel safer when you see it coming down the road.
In all honesty, self-driving cars will definitely be safer than human drivers (especially the drunk ones) but Alphabet/Google knows there’s a PR problem here. As Mashable succinctly put it: the issue is trust.
A standard video wouldn’t be as effective here, but VR works, especially when it puts you inside the vehicle. Even the simplest VR experience makes you feel like you’re riding in the backseat. Of course, holding up a Smartphone is incredibly awkward. Once again, 360° video is proving we need VR headsets that are as easy to use as a pair of glasses.
Awkward headsets or not, you might as well hop in – even if only virtually. Starting April 2, the vehicles will be allowed on California roads without a driver as long as they can be remotely disabled. They’re coming sooner then you think.
In the future, we’ll be able to do VR on our commute, or maybe hang out with friends. Or more likely, be at the office while we’re on the road to get there. Think work-life balance is an issue now? Wait until we have visually-rich social VR with full-body avatars.
So grab a swivel chair and enjoy a VR 360 experience of the self-driving car. And ponder why Alphabet felt compelled to put this out.
We may be in love with what our machines can do for us. But collectively, we’ve never much trusted them in the past. And I doubt we will in the future.
Emory Craig is a VR consultant, writer, and speaker with years of experience in art, new media, and higher education. He is actively engaged in innovative developments for AR and VR at the intersection of learning, games, and immersive storytelling. He is fascinated by virtual worlds, AI-driven avatars, and the ethical implications of blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual.