Immersive Tech’s Next Conquest: Your Car

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This post is the latest in our “Driving Local” series. It’s our editorial focus for the month of August, including topics like autonomous vehicles and the car as the ultimate “local” mobile device. See the rest of the series here

It always seems counterintuitive that VR theme park rides don’t predominantly cause motion sickness. Of all the activities that can happen in the sometimes nausea-inducing VR, you’d think such rides would be at the top of the list.

But because VR sequences in these rides are synced to the physical motion of the ride, it doesn’t cause VR’s signature nausea. As background, the biggest cause of VR sickness is when your visceral senses (what you see) don’t line up with your physical senses (what you feel).

So, if you’re playing a fast-moving shooter game while sitting still in a chair, the cerebral mismatch can cause disorientation. Vomiting is an evolutionary defense mechanism to that disorientation, when the body thinks it’s been poisoned. Add it all up, and that’s why you get sick in VR.

Image source: Holoride

Front-end Alignment

But the same inertial alignment that makes VR theme park rides “work” (business model notwithstanding) presents another opportunity: in-car VR. We’ve seen a few past examples and more at CES in January, such as Holoride.

In short, Holoride is an Audi-backed company that develops VR software and games that are optimized for in-car passenger experiences. That includes a Marvel-themed game whose gameplay and timing are synced to the physical motion of the car, thus avoiding nausea.

But beyond advantages in not making you sick (table stakes), there are several signals that indicate business opportunity. In fact, in-car time is seen as the next greenfield opportunity to capture our idle/captive attention — especially given the increasing time we spend in Uber rides.

Beyond passenger contexts, we’re entering the age of autonomous driving. A question will start to be asked: What will we do in the car when we’re no longer driving? This will open up previously untapped time for media, to the tune of 52 minutes per day in the U.S. — the average commute.

The Next Battleground

This is a big deal for VR because its market opportunity is otherwise gated by a fixed pie of available media time per day. And because VR is entertainment, it has to compete with TV and other entertainment media for that fixed pie (AR’s “micromoments” will be a bit less challenged).

So, all that in-car time could be media’s next battleground, and one where VR will start to develop its native footing. We’ll see Holoride competitors emerge to tackle the opportunity, which will lead to an ecosystem for content (Holoride SDK forthcoming), delivery channels, and monetization.

Monetization will include paid content as well as ad support. Marketers will salivate over the captive and focused audience engagement (though scale/reach could be relatively small). And it won’t just be interruptive ads but brand-sponsored experiences, like Holoride’s Marvel game.

The types of content that sync with forward movement could be limited (think: first-person cockpit games). But even mundane or productivity-based activities like email could be motion-synced by adding peripheral animations that indicate forward and inertial-synced movement.

Yet the real opportunity in VR and connected cars, going back to our primary focus on local commerce, could be to utilize that captive in-car media time with local discovery tools. Ad-supported experiences could be geo-targeted based on where you are or where you’re going. Destination-based discovery tools could be baked in.

Image source: Holoride

Good Start

For now, Holoride is vehicle-specific, so there will likely be more standardization to make it usable on the fly. One thing we’ve learned is that adoption friction doesn’t help an already adoption-challenged early technology like VR. But we’ll get there, and this is a good start.

Furthermore, cars are just one mode of transport. VR could find a welcome home in other conveyances, for all the reasons above. It’s already happening in-flight, which makes even more sense, given the highly entertainment-conducive environment and demand for immersive distractions.

Altogether, VR could increase its addressable market by planting itself as a go-to entertainment medium on planes, trains, and automobiles. As always with early-stage technologies, all of these theoretical benefits will have to be proven in the wild by real consumer interest and uptake.

And where does all of this leave AR? That’s the topic of its own article, but we’re already seeing some movement, such as heads-up displays and graphical overlays on windshields. As we wrote recently, Bosch is already integrating 3D displays in automobile consoles.

This will make a lot of sense, given that autonomous vehicles employ the same computer vision (to “see” the road) that’s a key underpinning of AR. Once AVs map and sense the road, the jump to directional overlays is logical. And that’s when we could see local discovery content integrated.

More to come on all of this as we continue to plot the course of the connected car, and how immersive tech like AR and VR will come into the picture.


Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at