by Andrew Laxton
I walk through the doors of the Audi dealership in Amersham, past the meeters and greeters at concierge who offer me a warm smile, and onto the gleaming white showroom floor. I look up and stand in awe.
On display before me are row upon row of gleaming hi-tech cars, each exquisitely engineered by the German automotive giant. I run my hands over the smooth space grey paintwork of the electric Audi e-tron 55 Quattro. It’s a monster of a machine, powered by a battery pack weighing nearly three quarters of a tonne.
I walk past the plug-in hybrid Q5 TFSI e and then onto the family range – there’s the baby A1, the Mummy A3 and the Daddy A6. But then I’m stopped in my tracks, I see it at the end of the showroom, displayed proudly by itself – the star of the show. My heart skips a beat as I walk towards the latest R8 Spyder V10; with its subtle aerodynamic curves, this car really is a thing of beauty; and with a price tag of £160,000 and change, you would hope so.
I pop the door open, slide into the driver’s seat and watch in awe as the virtual dashboard mirrors to the windscreen. A soft voice, with a hint of a Bavarian accent, politely asks me to fasten my seatbelt. I buckle up, then slowly reach for the ignition button, and gently press down. The engine roars like a lion; I have to quietly remind myself that I’m an adult and to stop giggling with excitement. The soft top quietly folds away as I slowly pull out of the forecourt to begin my test drive through the winding country roads of the Chiltern Hills.
My excitement is then shattered by the chaos of my two dogs bounding into the living room and my kids chasing not too far behind with my wife in close pursuit. I remove my VR headset, notice one of the dogs has knocked over my cup of tea and I reluctantly accept the chance of owning an R8 Spyder will have to wait until I win the lottery. My immersive experience had come to an abrupt end.
While the above scenario is a by-product of my vivid imagination, the reality of immersive technology of this scale becoming part of the consumer journey within the automotive industry is edging ever closer.
Big Tech has already given an insight into what the world will look like once digital immersion, including augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), becomes more embedded in our everyday lives. While this gives some cause for concern, there are numerous benefits if the techies can get the balance right.
We are already seeing this play out before our eyes, to a lesser degree, in other areas such as education, entertainment and hospitality.
Immersive Experiences Ltd holds the largest fleet of multi-purpose mobile planetariums and learning domes, providing immersive learning experiences to 100,000 school children each year.
Premier League club Manchester City has collaborated with Intel Sports to provide fans with immersive highlights of the game which gives them direct control over what they want to see from key positions on the pitch, allowing them to analyse key phases of play and better understand match tactics.
The trendy Lobby Bar at One Aldwych, in the heart of London’s theatre district, introduced a showtime cocktail menu with a VR twist. When ordering the now fabled Origin cocktail, which features a 12-year-old Dalmore whisky, the resident Mixologist (how I loved writing that) hands over a VR headset which takes you on a journey soaring over the Scottish Highlands as if you were a bird, flying over the cobbled streets of Covent Garden and back to the Lobby Bar where a cocktail is being made and infused with cherry wood smoke. It feels so real you’re convinced you can even smell it. The movie comes to end but your immersive experience doesn’t. You remove the headset to find curls of mist escaping from a glass in front of you, your freshly made cocktail awaits.
While there is nothing new about a brand using sound, sight and motion to make an emotional connection with its audience (TV has been doing this for decades), technology has a habit of evolving to encourage and influence persuasive behaviour.
As we become more receptive to AR and VR experiences, organisations are trying to figure out how to bait the hook that will get us to bite. What’s the ultimate aim? Get a user into a complete immersive environment that ignites multiple human senses and an unprecedented level of engagement – then reel them in.