Since the Oculus Rift was first unveiled, it's been clear that virtual reality has applications beyond the home. One such use case is the automotive industry, where designers are constantly drawing, examining and comparing new ideas. BMW has been using the technology since the 1990s, and now it's adopting the consumer-ready HTC Vive. Staff will be using the headset to visualise new interiors and other physical features. Once they've been implemented in VR, designers will be able to simulate a city and test whether the driver has enough visibility behind the wheel.
Engineers can also evaluate whether the dashboard and controls can be grasped properly from a seated position. It's valuable because decisions can be made without flying in designers from all over the world. Team members can strap on a headset, review the prototype and submit their feedback before moving on to the next version. Once the design has reached a certain threshold, the headsets will be put aside and a physical prototype can be built for further testing. It's a big change for BMW -- before, employees had to visit specialised, costly facilities to access VR.
For an authentic drive, BMW has developed a mockup, reusable car prop. Together with the HTC Vive, this creates a "mixed reality experience" that can be supplemented with engine sounds and other ambient noise.
For most consumers, the Vive is an expensive piece of hardware. For BMW, however, it's a relatively cheap investment, and one that will improve as companies release new, more affordable headsets. Over time, the company expects to install more hardware in "many different developer workstations, with little effort." Just picture a large, open office with dozens of Lighthouse base stations and people wiggling wand controllers in front of their monitors. That's the future BMW seems to be aiming for.