Monday, May 20, 2024
VR&AR

I drove a BMW M4 Competition wearing a VR headset and it’s the closest to real-life Mario Kart that you’ll get


There was no shortage of anticipation as I dropped the VR headset over my eyes, plunging me into an alternative reality. The five-point harness of the BMW M4 Competition held me against the rigid racing seat, in a Ready Player One reality that I wasn’t expecting. BMW had invited me to Sokolov to look at a range of advanced technologies being tested at the Future Mobility Development Center: surely taking my life into my own virtual hands wasn’t part of the package?


What happened next amazed me. The Varjo-developed headset gave me a mixed reality view that was quite literally out of this world. The cameras and other accoutrements from the interior of the car vanished, I could see the controls, the dials and my hands with perfect clarity – just a little closer than my normal visual reality. “That’s because the cameras are a little closer because of the thickness of the headset” said the co-driver, who also, reassuringly, had a brake pedal in case anything went badly wrong.

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BMW

Out of the window, the vast expanse of asphalt in which the BMW sat gave way to a Mario Kart-style racing track; the rolling hills and pine forests of the Czech Republic giving way to an urban raceway, lit with neon lights. Although it had been explained to me that I could just drive the virtual track, I didn’t fully understand the thrill ride I was setting up for. This beats any racing simulator, because it’s not a simulation: I was actually driving the car.

BMW took to the stage at CES 2023 and unveiled the i Vision Dee. In a spectacular showcase – featuring none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger – the Bavarian company introduced a car that not only changed colour on the outside, but could slide between realities on the interior. As a concept it made no sense at all – because the last thing you want when driving a car is less perception of the real world.

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BMW

But that was exactly what I was now presented with. The interior of the car was real, but the outside world wasn’t. I put the pedal to the floor, tugging the huge carbon paddles to shift up and down the gears to give me the optimal power as I hit the course. The car responded beautifully as I explored the virtual racetrack before my eyes, hitting apexes and pushing the car as much as I dared.

It wasn’t until I stepped out of the car, flush with adrenaline and giddy with excitement, that the absurdity of the situation hit me: there was no need to follow the track at all, I could have cut every corner because, in reality, there was nothing there. I stood in the weak sunlight and watched as the next driver played the same game, the BMW M4 Competition dancing around its playground, in a wolrd that didn’t exist.

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BMW

What struck me about the M Mixed Reality driving was just how good the VR experience was. There was no sense of disorientation, it was a seamless mixing of realities. Being in a real car meant it moved exactly as it should, boosted by that perfect purr of the engine and the soft squeal of the tyres. But not everywhere has the space to let a 500bhp BMW scream around the place. BMW says that it will take the BMW M Mixed Reality experience on the road to allow fans to experience it, but you’re going to need a big space to play.

But if you do get the chance, then dispense with any anticipation: this is the most fun you’ll have in VR and possibly, the closest you’ll ever get to real-life Mario Kart.



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