With no need to guide the car, I slipped on the Oculus VR headset and followed Redzik's instructions. Soon enough, I was immersed in Ubisoft's simulation, rolling down a forested road and seeing a virtual version of the Symbioz cockpit and traffic around me. Next, there was a virtual eclipse, and the scene transformed into a nighttime cityscape. Finally, the virtual EV took flight, soaring over a dreamy, fog-filled forest.
Though mildly worried, I was completely comfortable using the headset during the three-minute demo. VR is notorious for producing motion sickness even if you're sitting still, but Ubisoft combines TomTom's GPS road maps and the Symbioz's acceleration data, feeding it all into the simulation. "The acceleration, the speed, the localization in the lanes, the lateral acceleration, everything is taken into account by the VR experience," said Mathieu Lips, director of the Symbioz demo car project.
All of this is to avoid a perfect, vomitous storm of VR sickness and carsickness. "There is complete coherence between what you see on the screen, what your brain interprets and what your body is feeling [based on] what your inner ear interprets," Deborah Papiernik, senior VP at Ubisoft, told me. "And because there is perfect coherence in real time between the two, the experience is extremely comfortable."
That's not even mentioning the insanity of putting on a VR headset while driving, but Renault wanted to make a strong statement about the "mind off" idea. "They wanted an experience that would provide escapism, that would allow the driver to let go," Papiernik explains.
While you're in your VR bliss, the Symbioz keeps reality intrusions to a minimum. Renault worked with French highway company SANEF to automate the process of going through a toll booth and even erected special WiFi towers along our route. "They have installed five antennas called 'roadside units' that use the 5.0 GHz long-range WiFi," Lips told me. "Those will inform the vehicles about which toll gates doors are open for autonomous driving."
When the Symbioz approaches a pay toll, it automatically heads to a lane that supports autonomous driving and wireless payment. It's then supposed to slow to 30km/h (18MPH), transmit the payment, and pass the raised barrier without stopping.
During my demo ride, the EV concept did find and squeeze into the narrow automatic payment lane. However, rather than cruising through, it had to execute a "stop and go" maneuver due to the brutal weather. It was still an impressive display of the tech's potential, however.