I drove a BMW with a virtual reality helmet on my head

Settling into a real BMW M2 on a real track, while being projected on a virtual circuit using a virtual reality headset. This is the experience imagined by BMW, as strange as it is fun.

On paper, the experience offered by BMW is confusing. Why immerse journalists in virtual reality, when driving a BMW M2 on a track is already a great experience? On Numerama, we decided to play the game. Sitting at the wheel of a BMW M2 with a virtual reality helmet over our eyes, we set off to burn rubber on a circuit, without access to our real vision. We were skeptical before trying, but in the end we quickly got caught up in the game.

To make the immersion more real, BMW relies on mixed reality (a technology that allows you to see the real world through cameras around the helmet). The CEO of BMW’s M sports branch, Frank van Meel, seems convinced by this technology: ” Anyone wondering what virtual experiences in the automotive industry might look like in the future: here is the answer. People need to be able to experience this new sensation – and with ///M Mixed Reality we offer them a suitable solution for this. »

But what BMW got us into…

It probably wouldn’t occur to you to get behind the wheel of a sports car with a blindfold on. Yet that’s sort of what BMW asked us to do with its virtual reality headset and its BMW M2, a car I’d never driven before. We reassure you, the section of an old airstrip, which was used for the experiment, had no traps. But, psychologically, you had to have confidence. To accompany us in this mixed reality experience, we had an instructor in the passenger seat who, for everyone’s safety, still had brake controls, just in case.

Yes, I’m driving a car. // Source: BMW

So much for this quick presentation, here we are now on board the new BMW M2. After buckling the harness and engaging the vehicle’s “Drive” mode, we put the helmet on our head. Once ready to start, the headset turns on, and mixed reality takes over. We see at the start the track as it is in reality. The instructor guides us to go to a specific point of the circuit where we stop. At this point, the virtual circuit setting is launched (so we go into virtual reality). You are no longer on a BMW test track in the suburbs of Munich, but in a virtual world halfway between a simplistic Mario Kart circuit and the more futuristic side of a cult game like Wipeout 2097 on PS1. Of course, the roads are the same, there is no virtual wall in the middle of the void.

Installation of mixed reality in the BMW // Source: BMW
Installation of mixed reality in the BMW // Source: BMW

A truly confusing feeling

On the virtual circuit, the challenge is of course to complete the lap as quickly as possible, while collecting as many coins as possible on the course, and avoiding the “gates” which remove points. Even if the game is virtual, to succeed in having a good score, it is better to know how to take trajectories, as on a real circuit. This is what the instructor pointed out to us when asking if we had ever driven on the circuit, emphasizing our good driving reflexes. This is indeed the case (but I assure you, I do not take myself for a pilot). Taking the right trajectories at the wheel of a real car seems easier than in a video game, where the benchmarks are quickly distorted.

The virtual circuit of the experience ///M Mixed Reality // Source: BMW
The virtual circuit of the experience ///M Mixed Reality // Source: BMW

The first lap is quite slow, then finally the pace increases on the following laps. Each braking error or excessive acceleration, which causes the BMW to slip, wastes time, just like in a real race. Once the last lap record is beaten in 37 seconds, it’s already the end, we could still ask for a little more.

If gaming with a virtual reality headset makes you sick, this Mixed Reality experience from BMW might bring you back to the virtual environment. The brain and the inner ear seem much less reluctant to play, since the sensations in the body are real. In any case, our trial did not lead us to return our breakfast (and that was already a feat in itself).

In the middle of the race in mixed reality // Source: BMW
In the middle of the race in mixed reality // Source: BMW

The physical sensations of driving are there. Our game was spiced up by the arrival of the rain. If virtually the circuit was visibly dry, the BMW M2 moved on a really wet track, which earned some surprises in braking and acceleration. A small point to improve on the next version of the game, to make the immersion even better.

Even if we do not see very concrete outlets for this experience (except in the context of entertainment), we will at least have had a good time between the real and virtual world at the wheel of this BMW M2.

Source: Numerama by www.numerama.com.

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