Ever played a video game so realistic you felt you were genuinely there? Modern screenplay is so fast, so visceral, so accurate that the gap between reality and the virtual world is narrower than ever. We should know: we hammered a BMW M4 around an empty race track, with the driver’s head shrouded in a VR headset, and lived to tell the tale.
It’s all part of BMW’s M Mixed Reality, a rolling lab testbed that lets you drive a real M sports car around an empty test track using artificial gameplay, harnessing the latest advances in processing power, eye-tracking and ultra-high-definition goggles.
Sounds like a Mario Kart skunkworks, but there’s a serious edge to the project: BMW wants to push the frontiers of virtual, augmented and mixed reality – to understand how human beings interact with digital interpretations of the reality around them.
Driving a BMW M4 around a track using nothing but a VR headset
And it is pretty extreme. I warily don the 12-megapixel Varjo XR-3 headset and before we set off follow an installation process that’s like an eye test at the opticians, staring at dots and symbols while the mixed-reality goggles learn to track my eye and head movement. It’s so they can accurately project the gameplay into a photorealistic line of sight.
Once ready, I set off and immerse myself in a digital world that could be taken from an arcade machine. It’s the BMW M Mixed Reality metaverse, a race track with barriers, bridges and bonus tokens to collect as we drive round. It’s a route that’s been carefully selected to work on the huge concrete apron we’re actually driving around. Reassuringly, there’s a safety co-pilot sitting next to me in case I hallucinate, pass out or go rogue.