Volvo recently unveiled what could be the future of car dealerships. In a demonstration, the Swedish car manufacturer showed off a Microsoft Hololens augmented reality headset where a user can see a virtual showroom. To the device wearer, a small Volvo S90 model can be seen floating, and with a tap of a finger in the air, you can choose a color and trim. A third tap will see the model fly off the coffee table and transform into a full-sized car on a rotating platform.
It is the first time that Volvo showcased a new car virtually and it won’t be until January that the car will be unveiled in its full physical reality.
Volvo executives said that they have been working with the HoloLens team for about nine months now and see huge applications for augmented reality, whether it’s for a virtual showroom or just letting enthusiasts explore a 3D model of a new car at home. Though the company still isn’t sure where the technology will lead to, its exploratory partnership with Microsoft may allow some customers by next year to experience new cars on the HoloLens — in one form or another. Both Microsoft and Volvo said the demonstration was just a start and they will continue working together on a range of technologies, including autonomous vehicles.
“We take a quite practical approach in breaking down long term visions,” says Volvo Senior Vice President Björn Annwall. “Our retail experience and how you buy a car, that will change. But we break it down in steps. Revolutionary results by evolutionary means, I think, has worked for us.”
The Volvo demo was the most recent potential application of Microsoft’s HoloLens, the futuristic augmented reality headset unveiled in January. Microsoft says NASA scientists are already using it to steer rovers on Mars, and soon it will be tried by students in the classroom at Case Western Reserve University.
A developer version of the headset costing $3,000 will be released in the first quarter of 2016. Microsoft Senior Director Scott Erickson says there won’t be any non-disclosure agreements at that point, which will allow the public to test the device under real-world conditions. “So, for now, the $3,000 developer edition is really in line with the technology inside,” Erickson said. “Of course, we will take a look at that over time and see what that means for the eventual consumer product.”
The small Volvo model that transformed into a larger model allowed a user to see “under the skin of the car.” Microsoft said this was a Volvo priority as the manufacturer wanted to be able to use HoloLens to really explain how the car works. Likewise, an animated scene can show the car driving down a road. A guide explained safety features while the scenario played out and in one scene the S90 slammed on the breaks as it sensed a stationary vehicle ahead. In another situation, the car’s dashboard warned the driver of an upcoming patch of ice.
Volvo said the experience wasn’t designed to replace the feeling of sitting in an actual car before you buy it. Instead, the HoloLens could be used in dealerships together with a physical showroom car so the person can sit inside and touch it and also see what it looks like with the exact preferred paint color and trim.