Holoride: making a mobile metaverse

The Metaverse will not be the preserve of one company. Some businesses, like Holoride, have been working on it for nearly a decade.

While Meta (the newly renamed Facebook) has sucked away much of the conversational air about the Metaverse lately, it is not — and will not be — the sole arbiter of the new hotness. The most insightful commenters have pointed out that there won’t be a Metaverse, there will be many Metaverses

Indeed, arguably there are already several, including Fortnite and World of Warcraft. Niantic is making a bid to have its AR games, like Pokémon Go, classified similarly. And others have been working on Metaverse ideas for nearly a decade — including regular NEXT speaker, Nils Wollny of Holoride.

Nurturing a Metaverse in a car company

In fact, this Metaverse found life inside a much more traditional business: Audi. Wollny joined the company directly from a stint as managing director, strategy at NEXT founders SinnerSchrader, and started to think about the implications of its growing investment in autonomous driving technology. When it finally arrives — and his 2015 prediction of 2030 for full autonomy is looking safer than many of the more aggressive predictions — what are the second-order effects?

At the NEXT of that year, he explored two ideas:

Our cars could be doing other things while we’re not in them — when we’re at work, for instance. Could they become the heartbeat of a new economy? This impacts the logistics sector, and the retail sector and the travel industry and…

But, more specifically, as he pointed out, it creates time, that most precious of resources, for commuters:

For many people, it will free up an hour a day. What will they do with that time?

Time for a Holoride

A year later, he had an answer for us: the car has the potential to become a mobile experience platform. Alongside other digital initiatives, like MyAudi, he was actively exploring how the intersection of AR, VR and autonomous driving could reshape the mobile experience. 

Wearing VR goggles can be a scary experience — you don’t know what’s happening around you. In the car, you’re in a private space — and you can add windows out to reality. For example, imagine experiencing the 15th century version of the city as you’re driven through it. You can have films or performances that you move through. 

This was the genesis of the Holoride idea. Use information from the car’s sensors to determine movement. Match that with a combination of VR experiences, and AR to give external context from the real world. Match the VR experience to the sensed movement of the car. At one stroke, you solve one of the biggest challenges of VR. It is notorious for causing nausea in many users when their physical senses and their vision are telling them different things about motion. By making the VR experience move in the same way the car is, your sense agree with each other.

And you also open up new possibilities for that extra hour:

We could meet, discuss — and sell — in these mobile spaces. Rather than selling driving experience, we sell experience driving…

A solo Holoride

By 2019, Holoride has been spun out as a separate business, with Audi as a stakeholder, and other firms were helping develop the working version of it. At NEXT19, our last pre-pandemic event, Söhnke Christiansen, who was then working for Mackevision, outlined how they’d been working to deliver a prototype experience. They built on top of Unreal Engine, rapidly becoming a Metaverse staple, which allowed them to rapidly build out a range of options. 

As Christiansen put it:

Once we settled on the range of worlds we would build — different worlds for different passengers — we started building out the assets that would be used to create the reality. They need to be more complex the closer they are to the viewer — and high complexity worlds need more complex assets than simplified, cartoonish worlds we’re used to.

The vision was becoming reality — or, at least, a mixed reality experience. 

Live, in the metaverse, in your car

Leap forwards two years to 2021. NEXT Limited Edition was our cautious return to physical events during the waning stages of the pandemic. Those who were able to attend Hamburg in person were able to climb into a car outside the theatre, and experience Holoride for themselves. 

Returning to the NEXT stage, Nils updated us on what the Holoride experience had become in the last two years:

It’s inherently a Metaverse experience. The Metaverse is, at its best, the physical world and the digital world colliding, and creating a supernova. 

Wollny suggested that, after seven years of development, the first commercial examples could be in cars by 2022.

The long path to the Metaverse

That’s a useful reminder for us all: in the midst of the hype around the Metaverse right now, it takes years to go from an idea to a working system. Holoride started with a clear opportunity, a clear vision and corporate backing. And it has still taken nearly a decade to get to a viable product.

Next time you see a flashy concept video, with no viable product yet, ask yourself how far this really is from the marketplace. And also ask yourself who else is out there, quietly building an intriguing metaverse proposition, without the media focus of a Meta…

There will be many Metaverses, some for work, some for play. And some for travel.

Photo by Richard Biros on Unsplash