Jaguar just showed us the future of (VR) car launches

[Here’s a nice first-person report of an ambitious use of VR and presence; it’s from VR Scout, where it features lots more pictures. I’ve lightly edited it here to fix some typos. –Matthew]

Jaguar I-PACE VR launch - group at tables

Jaguar Just Showed Us The Future of Car Launches

The VR reveal for the company’s first-ever electric car blew our minds.

by Jonathan Nafarrete
November 14, 2016

During a press event at Milk Studios in Los Angeles Sunday night, Jaguar revealed the I-PACE, the company’s first-ever electric car. A competitor to the Tesla Model X, the I-PACE is a major foray for Jaguar into electric automotive transportation.

So when it came to launching a future facing vehicle like the I-PACE, Jaguar needed a car launch that went above the normal conventions of previous automotive launches. The car company needed something that equaled the car’s product ambitions. And what better way to do that than with virtual reality.

For the product launch of the I-PACE, Jaguar revealed the electric car to members of the media with a ground breaking social VR experience that brought 66 individuals located across two continents together to share a front row seat for the car company’s next era of automotive design.

Let me just lead by saying that I’ve been to other car launches before, and they’re what you’d expect from an automotive reveal. Maybe there’s some fog machines, live music, pulsing lights, and likely a giant sheet that gets dragged off the shiny new wheels.

But what Jaguar pulled off is something entirely different — for the automotive industry and for VR.

Not only did the experience captivate an entire room of automotive journalists and celebrities, it was a successful execution of a very complicated VR experience. The amount of technical layers and timing required to achieve a live virtual launch of this kind is something the world has yet to see.

The VR Launch Experience

Already running late, I was the last to be ushered to their seat. What I saw in front of me on the main stage for the big reveal stopped me in my tracks. Nine circular tables were arranged neatly on a stage, each seating six guests, all of whom were donning a HTC Vive headset, calmly waving a Vive controller in front of their face.

I quickly seated myself and began putting on the gear — headset, headphones, controller — a routine that has become so familiar. A Jaguar employee whispered into my ear, “you just made it in time.”

And then I was there — in VR.

Like in reality, I was sitting at a round table, but in VR I was surrounded by five other glowing virtual headsets staring at me, waving their controller, as if to say hello. I swiveled my chair around and that’s when I noticed all the other tables. The entire room of tables and guests all wearing a Vive were now on a giant virtual stage at the same time.

Music began to blast — the show was about to begin — and that’s when he appeared. Off to the side of our table, a host materialized and welcomed everyone to the launch of the Jaguar I-PACE. The live captured host glowed like a hologram but his presence felt like he was actually standing in the room. What happened next seemed to go by quickly, but we must have all been in VR for at least the next 25-30 minutes.

I was already impressed with the live captured host kicking off the event among a sea of 54 other guests sitting at tables. But then he followed it up by announcing that a similar event in London was also taking place at the same time and they would be joining us. Immediately a few more tables filled with virtual guests appeared, again all waving their controller hand to say hello. All 66 of us located across two continents were now together in one live environment for the reveal of Jaguar’s first-ever electric vehicle.

Then the host, now joined by Jaguar designer Ian Callum, reflected on the design inspiration of the I-PACE as a glowing 3D design rendering appeared next to them. Glowing light from the Jaguar model also seemed to reflect off the hosts, thanks to some slick lighting tricks back in the studio that matched the virtual environment lighting with the studio’s.

The entire experience was interactive, letting you click the trigger on the Vive controller and independently move back and forth to view different angles of the Jaguar I-PACE model. Next, everyone found themselves transported to space, looking down on the United States. The room gasped in unison as they all realized the floor had disappeared below their seat. There were many scene changes throughout the experience, each one informing you about different key features of the vehicle model. At one point Jaguar engineer, Ian Holborn, also joined the virtual environment as he dynamically dissected the car and personally guided the audience to explore within and around the vehicle in real time.

But the crowd favorite was when everyone was transported to the interior of the car. A virtual steering wheel first appeared in front of you — then the dashboard, the interior seats, and exterior body. Features all presented themselves in a gradual and interactive way. And to finish it all off, the outside environment appeared, finding yourself now parked on the Venice Beach boardwalk. You could hear the actual guests in the room squealing with joy and amazement. The audience began standing up out of their seats and sticking their head out of the sunroof — it was a beautiful summer day in LA.

Towards the end of the whole VR launch experience, the virtual presenters began taking questions from the crowd of journalists. Just like a real-life press briefing Q&A, but entirely in VR with glowing audience avatars.

When the final reveal came, the giant sheet used during traditional car reveals was instead a Vive headset. Taking the headset off your face revealed the physical concept model of the Jaguar I-PACE parked on the stage in front of you. And like that, we were all back to reality with a heavy round of applause.

For most in attendance, this was probably their first time in VR. Considering that even I was smiling most of the time throughout and have experienced a lot of VR over the years, I can only imagine the exhilaration they must have been feeling.

In collaboration with HTC, Dell, and UK creative agency Imagination, Jaguar pulled off VR gold. It was the largest number of HTC Vive headsets connected for a consumer product launch we’ve ever seen. The social VR platform allowed presenters to live-stream into the VR world for each member of the media to individually see, hear and speak to — welcome to the future.

Speaking with Russell Hall, Head of Interactive at Imagination, the launch experience was built in Unity and took four months to deliver back to Jaguar. “This was really pushed on by the ambition of this car and with Jaguar’s redefining moment, we really had to meet it with a concept that was as redefining as well.” With over 130 staff members on hand during the event, and a massive amount of Dell PCs hidden away, all monitoring the HTC Vive headsets of guests, I can see why everything needed to be running like a well-oiled machine to pull it off. You’ll be able to check out a variation of the Jaguar I-PACE Vive experience yourself soon on Viveport.

We’ve seen it all before, automotive companies using VR as a marketing tool, most of which are more gimmicks than experiences. But what Jaguar did for this launch goes beyond just a car show stunt, instead bringing you into a story experience that you’ll likely never forget — creating a powerful, lasting and authentic memory for us all — and hopefully sell some cars in the process.

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