Castrol EDGE makes a driver burn rubber while wearing a VR headset

You'd think that blinding a professional driver with a custom Oculus Rift headset as they drift around a live track would be a crazy way to promote anything. And you'd be right. But, well, Castrol EDGE really wants you to know about its new Titanium Strong motor oil. So much so that it strapped a VR headset on racer Matt Powers and turned a Roush Stage 3 Mustang into a VR controller for its Virtual Drift Trial. From his perspective he's navigating through an apocalyptic VR landscape with crumbling roads and tidal waves of volcanic rock. From ours, it's as if he's got a death wish like an extra from Mad Max: Fury Road.

Sure, the final product looks like an orgy of Adobe After Effects and Michael Bay's action movie aesthetic. But after sitting through a brief demo of the VR experience on Samsung's Gear VR, it's pretty clear that Virtual Drift is more than just special effects. The VR demo put me in the passenger seat as Powers made his way around the track, constantly switching between the VR and real-world view. (You can get a similar experience with this 360-degree video clip.) Unfortunately, I wasn't able to switch between the two views on the fly, but Castrol reps said they might have something like that in the works for later this year.

Castrol EDGE tapped technologists Adam Amaral (he's the guy in the passenger seat) and Glenn Snyder to build a new experience to show off its Titanium Strong oil back in November. By December, they were committed to the idea of combining a real-world racing and VR experience. And come February, they were ready to film. That's a pretty fast turnaround for any tech project, let alone one that has drivers drifting around tracks at high speeds while blind to the real world. "It's a big trust exercise," Snyder said.

To power the whole experience, Snyder and Amaral combined an Oculus Rift DK2 headset with a traditional racing helmet and built a server filled with NVIDIA GTX 980 video cards, which sat in the trunk of the car. They developed Virtual Drift in Unreal Engine 4, relying heavily on NVIDIA's PhysX engine to get the physics just right. There were also a plethora of sensors all around the car feeding into the PhysX engine. Testing involved plenty of long nights in abandoned parking lots with a rented Mustang (just try explaining that to the cops).

At the end of the day, Castrol EDGE and crew, including director Ben Conrad and his creative company LOGAN, ended up making a cool film trailer to sell their fancy new oil. But the only way they can show off the full extent of the Virtual Drift experience is by giving people a chance to see it in VR. Castrol EDGE says it plans to put it on the Oculus Store eventually (which is also accessible on the Gear VR), but for now you can check out the 360-degree video to get a taste.