BMW is celebrating 25 years of its Silicon Valley R&D office this month, where close neighbours and collaborators include big names like Amazon, Google and Meta. The carmaker is hard at work on new developments, of which some could appear in the upcoming Neue Klasse EVs due from 2025 – but the real fun still lies in the driving. Case in point: the company’s brilliant Mixed Reality experience.
Putting you in a real car, doing real driving, but in a virtual track environment, the closest thing to compare it with is Mario Kart. There’s a VR headset on your bonce, but 400bhp of real-world horsepower under your foot, with all the G-forces and sensations that come with it. It’s an experience like no other.
Now available to paying customers in Germany, it is already booked up solid with petrolheads keen to try their hand at getting around the track, while successfully collecting coins and bagging a decent lap time into the bargain.
The Mixed Reality experience headlines a bunch of augmented reality and virtual reality projects in the pipeline at the office, which is smack bang in the middle of start-up country. BMW continues to work with and invest in a raft of smaller, dynamic businesses to develop new ideas that can eventually be used in its cars.
There’s lots going on, from work on BMW’s next generation Intelligent Personal Assistant (or IPA) to all-important work on future EV battery technology.
BMW continues to drip-feed us tech nuggets like this on a regular basis, and the 25th anniversary of their California dream has also highlighted other key areas of development. One of the most intriguing is the collaboration between BMW and Meta, which offers an in-vehicle combination of virtual reality and mixed reality content while you’re on the go, via a Meta Quest 3 VR headset.
Boffins from the Mountain View R&D office explained that the system incorporates inertia data from a BMW car’s sensor array into the tracking system of Meta’s Project Aria research glasses. Once this has been done it’s possible to pop on a headset and enjoy all sorts of in-car entertainment, from gaming-on-the-go through to carrying out more serious tasks such as staying productive while you’re on the move. It’s even possible to do a bit of meditation as you sit in the back of the car.
Adding to the sensorial vibe is the way BMW is experimenting with a range of dynamic scents, which can be tailored to your mood or route and dispersed as you’re heading down the road. The effect is really quite interesting with intermittent wafts of scents and smells arriving and disappearing swiftly during our experience of it in the back of a big and equally as wafty BMW i7.
Heading for the hills? No problem, fresh mountain air and that unmistakable scent of the hilltop pine trees is possible. Driving by the coast? Expect to get a strong whiff of the sea as you get closer to it. Combine these fragrant bursts with the AR and VR content that BMW is working on and it’s easy to get quite excited about the potential.
Nevertheless, if you just love driving there’s no getting away from the endless and highly addictive appeal of the BMW Mixed Reality experience. It’s the one we’d always come back to, simply because it’s so cool. Are you ready to join the queue?