Being driven through the deadlocked streets of Las Vegas during CES can be nauseating – at the best of times. But are you doing this with a virtual reality headset blocking your view? Surely it’s a recipe for disaster.
I don’t have the strongest stomach; I pack Dramamine wherever I go. So it was with more than a little trepidation during that CES 2023 I agreed to experience the morning traffic on the Strip from the back of a car while wearing a VR headset.
However, this wasn’t just any car and it wasn’t just any VR system. The car was a 1967 Cadillac DeVille, notable in many ways, but notable in this context for its abject lack of technology. (Disturbingly, there were also no seat belts, which luckily weren’t needed that day.) The headset was on HTC VIVE Flowpaired with a The new retrofit kit from Holoridea $199 add-on that lets you experience in-car VR experiences in literally any car.
The initial launch of Holoride was in partnership with Audi, who started Integration of the company’s technology in his cars last year.
Nils Wollny, CEO of Holoride, told me that while more OEM partnerships are in the pipeline (“we can’t announce that yet”), this retrofit kit provides an immediate, massive expansion of the product’s market reach. Wollny calls it “an easy way for people who want to go on a Holoride to outfit the car they have so they don’t have to have the latest Audi.”
All you need is a place to mount the Holoride device, which is a puck-shaped thing that contains an accelerometer, a high-quality one GPS and a wireless module to connect to the HTC Vive Flow. Stick it on the windshield, turn it on and you’re good to go. Data from this module drives the various app experiences provided by Holoride – experiences that all contain some sort of visual cues to help prevent motion sickness.
I sampled what the aftermarket package had to offer while sitting in the Cadillac’s roomy rear seat, a wide stretch of vinyl that has likely seen some experiences of a very different nature.
I started with Pixel Ripped 1995: On the Road. This is a Holoride-specific spin-off of the indie VR darling. Here you play a 2D platformer on a virtual handheld gaming system (a “Gear Kid color“) sitting in the virtual back seat of a virtual car while your virtual parents exchange idle banter in the front.
As you really drive through traffic, the game simulates a world around you: an endless idyllic neighborhood. It doesn’t look like Sin City’s vast excess. It matches the general road layout, so the virtual car does the same when the real car stops at an intersection. The game is simple but fun – miles better than staring at the gridlock.
Control a giant in Cloudbreakers: Leaving Haven, a roguelike shooter exclusive to Holoride robot through digital clouds and blast wave after wave of geometric enemies. Around and below you, vertical and horizontal curved lines give a visual representation of roads. When the car turns, the in-game action swings left or right accordingly.
The good news is that playing these experiences and more has never made me the slightest bit nauseous. In fact, 10 minutes in the back seat of a cab on the way to my next appointment made me more nauseous than the 30 minutes I spent with a VR headset in this Cadillac.
The bad news is that currently none of the titles seem compelling enough to justify the $19.99 monthly or $180 per year to get access to Holoride’s service. Wollny says they are working with developers to add more titles to their library at an expected rate of new content every two weeks.
More of these simple experiences may not be the answer. In my opinion, the killer app here is media consumption. Complete the games and you can mirror your smartphone in VR and jump into any streaming app. The Holoride software again renders a virtual landscape, like a giant cinema screen, floating over a moving background, meaning you can enjoy your content free from distractions and motion sickness.
The next step? Wollny says they’re working to get the smartphone out of that equation: “We’re currently planning a native movie app or streaming app where you’ll also download the latest movie or TV show and then just relax, sit back (and watch) on.” a virtual 180-inch screen.”
The retrofit kit is a great way to bring this technology to more people and give Holoride access to far more customers.
However, Wollny told me that adding OEM partnerships is still a focus as Holoride works to make the integration as seamless as possible.
As more and more cars come equipped with accelerometers and high-quality GPS, adding support is often all it takes to add some software.
“We’ve lowered the barrier for automakers to integrate our solution as much as possible because they find it an attractive solution for their passengers,” Wollny told TechCrunch. “And it’s an additional revenue stream for mobility data that they have. They provide us with the data; we do a revenue share with them.”
More recurring revenue and happier stomachs in the back seat sounds like a real win-win situation.