Automobile manufacturers and retailers have been among the most enterprising adopters of VR technology. Usually, that technology has been geared towards enterprise. However, in recent outward-facing projects, BMW in particular has leaned heavily into VR.
To make this happen, the luxury car company has partnered with some old ARPost favorites in AR and VR technology including Pico, Engage, and 8th Wall. The projects have also been enabled by companies we had yet to meet, including CRAFT, Antiloop, Govar, and We Are Jerry.
BMW’s Road to XR
To be fair, BMW didn’t wake up and discover AR and VR technology this week.
Last year, Unity’s Vice President of Features, Andre Gauthier, told ARPost how the Unity graphics engine enables a number of BMW’s projects that require real-time rendering. The year before that, VIVE put out a case study detailing how BMW uses eye-tracking in VR technology and experiences to learn what users look for when they look at a new car design.
So, if BMW has already been involved in VR technology, why are we just now getting interested? There are two main reasons.
First, it gives us an interesting glimpse into how a VR-veteran company uses VR. We get excited when a new company tests out VR technology for the first time, but watching a company like BMW take VR around the block year after year is a different kind of exciting.
Second, so far BMW’s VR technology and experiences have been largely internal. It has been used in the design process but hasn’t been in front of the eyes of non-company users. The new projects are both meant for consumers. This potentially marks a major pivot in how BMW uses VR but it also gives the average person an opportunity to view the experiences themselves.
The Virtual Viewer Experience
The showroom is the point of contact between buyers and vehicles as well as between people and the brand. When COVID-19 closed dealerships around the world, BMW searched for a way to let buyers explore vehicles – not just look at them. Brand engagement agency FCB Inferno had an idea, but they needed help.
Working With Craft, Antiloop, and 8th Wall
FCB Inferno had worked with BMW in the past, but had produced content for 2D media. This time, they wanted to do something more interactive, and BMW was behind it.
“BMW bought into the concept from the beginning,” FCB Inferno Head of Creative Production, Mike Jenkins, said in an email to ARPost. “An AR experience wasn’t enough for BMW. They were very specific that we needed to do more than just show the car in AR; it had to be a journey we could take the user on and use technology in a surprising and innovative way.”
FCB handled creative development while digital design studios Antiloop and Craft handled technical elements. Some assets could be used from previous BMW projects but much of the experience had to be built from the ground up.
“At BMW, we want to ensure that we introduce digital tools in a way that really help prospective customers along their decision journey when choosing a car, while ensuring it’s fun and user friendly,” BMW Brand Communications Manager Sophie Chiappe said in a release shared with ARPost.
Beyond that, the solution had to be accessible to as many people as possible.
“It was essential that we created an experience that was accessible to as many customers as possible and by using WebAR, we could create an experience that many people can use on their mobile phones,” said Jenkins. “We also wanted to enable consumers to place these vehicles in their own environments, so the mixed reality element was important.”
As a leading WebAR platform, 8th Wall was a natural fit. The end experience, accessible on mobile devices, lets users explore the insides and outsides of a virtual BMW. Users navigate the experience, take quizzes, and talk to a chatbot through voice commands.
Building the BMW i Motorsports Virtual Garage
Just like automotive isn’t just about design, it’s also about more than sales. It’s also about engagement. The Virtual Viewer experience was educational, but BMW is also interested in engaging in a more personal way.
More recently, BMW i Motorsports wanted to find a way not just to connect BMW fans with vehicles, but to connect them with each other.
Meet Wir Sind Jerry and GOVAR
BMW was attracted to the concept because it has a scalable ambition to use the VR experience over and over again, both online and onsite. In order to implement the concept at the highest level, Wir Sind Jerry worked together with the VR/AR specialists from GOVAR.
“It was really a perfect combination of We Are Jerry’s sports knowledge and GOVAR’s VR/AR experience,” GOVAR founder Stefan Göppel told ARPost.
GOVAR has worked with other departments at BMW to create assets in the past, but had never worked with BMW on social experiences. Wir Sind Jerry Founder and Managing Partner, Karsten Streng, also said BMW was very open to using VR technology, but had not done so directly.
“BMW is working with VR, but not in this department. This is a life experience department, but times have changed,” Streng told ARPost. “On the one hand, the experience itself was pretty new to them as an innovative technology company… On the other hand, the cool thing was that it wasn’t that hard to convince them to do it.“
Our Old Friends, Pico and ENGAGE
From there, VR technology company Pico Interactive came onboard. Pico’s main European office has historically been located in Barcelona, but the company is growing so fast in Germany that they are planning on opening another office in the region.
“Pico is a pure manufacturer,” explained Oliver Wöhler, who heads Pico’s commercial activities in Northern Europe. “Pico is not an ecosystem, so people are able to work with different software.”
The software in question: ENGAGE.
“ENGAGE has been a trusted partner in the past,” said Wöhler. “The software is very stable and this is important for experiences like this.”
More than that, ENGAGE is adaptable enough to create realistic settings and familiar-looking avatars with an ease that doesn’t come with all social VR technology platforms. The drivers as well as the cars need to be entirely recognizable in order for the experience to be truly immersive. In the case of the cars, they need to be recognizable inside and out.
“In the special case of motorsports, there is no better solution than VR because you have so many elements, even under the hood,” said Streng.
The pandemic is largely behind us, but that doesn’t mean that BMW AR and VR technology and experiences are behind us too. A number of the individuals interviewed for this article said that their agencies had been working with BMW on immersive experiences already and they only see more on the horizon.