Alan N. Shapiro, Visiting Professor in Transdisciplinary Design, Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany

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The Car of the Future is a Virtual Reality Game Platform

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Paul Virilio is a French theorist of technology whose work has focused on architecture, art, transportation, war, urban planning, and the cinema. Virilio’s central concept is speed, as in the title of his major early work Speed and Politics (1977). He is also a theorist of accidents and crashes. Virilio argues that military technologies and agendas drive history. All important technologies of the twentieth century derive inherently from military technology. In the case of the automobile, Virilio emphasizes its relationship to strategic-logistic technologies of surveillance and control over physical territories, the car’s affiliation with the airplane and the tank. The advent of armoured vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine played a major role in bringing World War I to an end. But for some time now, he contends in Polar Inertia (1994), the car has been in decline as a vehicle for moving through conventional space. We now primarily inhabit time rather than space, and driving is intrinsically a cinematic experience. As we drive, the world is speeded up, rendered perspectival, and edited, just as in a film. As long as automobile manufacturers persist in not recognizing this, the car will continue to be upstaged by the “trans-dimensional” vehicles of media image streams such as TV and the Internet, tele-commuting and tele-shopping, experienced by the public as a better way to navigate the virtual reality in which we now live. In an important sense, the car needs to be redesigned from scratch in order to keep up with these developments of the supercession – to a significant degree – of the physical real by the virtual (what we want is a new, more embodied relationship between the physical real and the virtual). This comprehensive redesign is something entirely different from simply equipping the car with high-tech gadgets ranging from cell phones, MP3 players, video screens and recorders to radar detectors, global positioning systems, and command-oriented speech interaction.

This analysis of the deficit of the automobile with respect to TV, computers, and telecommunications leads to the formulation of the idea of the “Car of the Future” as a new VR entertainment platform: the Tele-Car or Tele-Mobile, the Holo-Car. The car will become a cockpit for all kinds of simulations or virtual realities.

© Copyright Nick Pugh, 2010

In our concept of the Car of the Future, people will use their cars a good deal of the time for activities that take place in a virtual reality environment (similar to the Holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation), and less for the physical activity of getting from point A to point B. This will have the direct outcome that less petroleum will be used, and less pollution will be given off.

A technology of a very special kind of glass will be developed for the car’s front and rear windshields, and front and back side windows, left and right. This technology will be dual-purpose. The glass will be transparent, allowing the driver and passengers to see the real physical world, real landscapes and real highways, as in the “Car of the Past and Present.” In addition, the glasses will be video screens, surrounding the driver and passengers on all sides with video images. What will be played and seen on these video screens is the central component of a new virtual reality experience. What one sees through video will be complemented by what one hears through audio, by climate changes that one senses through the environmental and climate-control systems, and by the feel of the car against the road or the terrain, the simulated physical interaction between the car and the outside as the driver drives and the car “moves.” But the car does not actually go anywhere. It sits somewhere, in a driveway or in a garage, or in a special entertainment facility that is the successor to the drive-in movie, where the car gets attached to some kind of intelligent grid.

For 250 Euro, the consumer buys the virtual reality game cartridge “Driving Through the Swiss Alps.” Or “Car Chase in San Francisco.” “New York City Taxi Driver,” “African Safari,” “Driving Through the Arizona Deserts,” “Riding Rover on Mars or the Moon,” “Submarine Exploring the Ocean Floor,” “James Bond Speed-Boating in Venice, Italy,” “Helicopter Ride Over the Caribbean Islands,” “Japanese Sex Hotel” (instead of an unchanging environment, the ‘room’ can be modified, reanimated, at least audio-visually, to animate anew the libido). It does not have to be restricted to the vehicle being a car. It is a new multimedia platform, a virtual reality games platform, also inspired by virtual golf simulators, with game cartridges that can be produced in a big third-party market, using an API (Application Programming Interface) made available to developers.

The focus is on adventure, history, inter-cultural communication.

The car as a simulation vehicle. The car as its own amusement park. It projects all these simulation rides through its windows. In my book Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance, I wrote 80 pages about virtual reality technologies and stories, so I am an acknowledged expert on VR and simulation technology.

The car as virtual reality experience platform will alleviate problems of high gas costs, traffic, and pollution. It will also reduce accidents. Our sense of distance is now more a matter of time than space. The auto isolates us by increasing the time needed to connect, by creating congestion and its mitigation, sprawl. Yet, earlier in its history, the auto also reduced the time needed to connect, as compared say, with the horse and buggy. This progressive evolution can now be carried on via new kinds of connectivity.

The “Car of the Past and Present,” because it has been conceived in theory and built in practice as a vehicle for overcoming physical distances, has lost out in popularity to TV, Internet, and telecommunications, these latter being multimedia technologies which conquer physical distances much more instantaneously than the car does. The correct technology for in turn surpassing all these tele-technologies which have beaten out the car for a long time is virtual reality. With this virtual reality entertainment-experience technology, cars (the “Car of the Future”) will truly leapfrog all the other media technologies and re-take the lead as the coolest thing around.

In the computer industry (for example, in Bill Gates’ book, The Road Ahead), many believe that such a generalized cockpit center for VR will emerge in the living room, as an extension of TV and computers. This is wrong. How can you convince the public to accept some new and cumbersome cockpit simulator equipment into their living rooms? The chance that this will succeed is very low. The car, on the other hand, is the natural platform to be extended for this virtual reality media technology. From a marketing point of view, it will almost surely succeed.

Worldwide efforts by automobile manufacturers to make an ecological car have only resulted in very small cars that lose all the sexiness that have made cars into some of our favorite objects and places of desire. Once again, we have to connect with the cultural history of our passion for and in cars.

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