I drove a BMW with a virtual reality helmet on my head

Set in a real BMW M2 on a real track while being projected onto a virtual circuit using a virtual reality headset. This is the experience imagined by BMW, as strange as it is fun.

On paper, experience offered by BMW it’s confusing. Why immerse journalists in virtual reality, when driving a BMW M2 on a track is already a great experience? At Numerama, we decided to play the game. Sitting behind the wheel of a BMW M2 with one virtual reality headsetin the eye, we left it to burn the gum in a circle, without access to our true vision. We were skeptical before trying it out, but in the end we quickly got hooked on the game.

To make the dive more real, BMW relies on mixed reality (a technology that allows you to see the real world thanks to cameras around the helmet). The CEO of BMW’s M sports division, Frank van Meel, seems convinced by this technology: Anyone wondering what virtual experiences in the automotive industry might look like in the future: here’s the answer. People need to be able to experience this new sensation – and with ///M Mixed Reality we offer them a suitable solution for this. »

But what brought us BMW…

You probably wouldn’t think of getting behind the wheel of a sports car blindfolded. However, that’s what BMW asked us to do with its virtual reality headset and its BMW M2, a car I’d never driven before. We assure you that the part of an old airstrip that was used for the experiment had no traps. But psychologically, you had to have faith. To accompany us on this mixed reality experience, we had an instructor in the passenger seat who, for everyone’s safety, still had brake controls, just in case.

Yes, I am driving a car. // Source: BMW

As for this quick introduction, here we are now on board the new BMW M2. After bending the harness and activating the “Drive” mode of the vehicle, we put the helmet on the head. Once it’s ready to start, the headset turns on and mixed reality takes over. We first see the track as it is in reality. The instructor instructs us to go to a specific point in the circuit where we stop. At this point, the configuration of the virtual circuit is set (so we move to virtual reality). You are no longer on a BMW test track on the outskirts of Munich, but in a virtual world halfway between a simplified circuit. Mario Kart and the more futuristic side of a cult game like Wipeout 2097 on PS1. Of course, the roads are the same, there is no virtual wall in the middle of the gap.

Installation of mixed reality in BMW // Source: BMW
Installation of mixed reality in BMW // Source: BMW

A really confusing feeling

On the virtual circuit, the challenge is of course to complete the lap as quickly as possible, collecting as many coins as possible on the course and avoiding the “gates” that take away points. Even if the game is virtual, to succeed in a good result, it is better to know how to get trajectories, like in a real circuit. This is what the instructor pointed out to us when he asked if we had ever driven on the circuit, emphasizing our good driving reflexes. This is indeed the case (but I assure you, I do not consider myself a pilot). Getting the right trajectories behind the wheel of a real car seems easier than in a video game, where standards are quickly distorted.

Virtual Experience Circuit ///M Mixed Reality // Source: BMW
Virtual Experience Circuit ///M Mixed Reality // Source: BMW

The first lap is quite slow, eventually the pace picks up in the following laps. Any braking error or over-acceleration that causes the BMW to slide loses time, just like in a real race. Once the last lap record is beaten in 37 seconds, it’s already the end, we can ask for a little more.

If gaming with a virtual reality headset makes you sick, this mixed reality experience from BMW can put you back in the virtual environment. The brain and inner ear seem much less ready to play, as the sensations in the body are real. However, our ordeal did not lead us to return breakfast (and that was already a feat in itself).

In the middle of the race in mixed reality // Source: BMW
In the middle of the race in mixed reality // Source: BMW

The physical sensations of driving are there. Our game was spoiled by the arrival of rain. If the circuit was practically noticeably dry, the BMW M2 moved on a really wet track, which gained some surprises in braking and acceleration. A small point to improve in the next version of the game, to make the immersion even better.

Even if we don’t see much concrete output for this experience (except in the context of entertainment), at least we will have had a good time between the real and virtual worlds behind the wheel of this BMW M2.

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