Just when you thought augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) had fallen off the creative drawing board, Saatchi & Saatchi is bringing it back to the forefront in a new immersive experience with Japanese auto manufacturer Toyota. Toyota’s immersive AR experience will lead the auto industry in what is sure to be an increasing move toward digital transformation in the form of AR and MR.
Saatchi & Saatchi and Toyota are no strangers to using bold tech in the auto market. Before Toyota’s immersive AR experience, Saatchi & Saatchi had created an immersive print ad that allowed readers to experience the “new car smell,” as well as other tech features. Readers opened the insert by placing their thumbs on a metallic door sensor, which activated a leather scent, measured their heart rate, and sent data to a monitor that registered heartbeat with LCD and sounds. This latest round of Toyota’s immersive AR experience, however, seems to be a truer use-case for AR for the automotive industry at large.
How Does It Work?
Toyota’s immersive AR experience will bring virtual vehicles to consumers across the United States so they can experience them up close and person. The coolest part is that they’ll do this without requiring users to download a specific app to their mobile device. Instead, the AR experience will be delivered at scale through digital media. For instance, users can simply click a banner ad on a social media page, and Toyota’s AR experience will launch.
Using transformative 3D and AR technology, Toyota’s immersive AR experience will model the exteriors of 10 different car models. The company believes it will offer a rich digital experience much closer to walking around a real car than any video or imagery could ever provide. From there, consumers can place the AR vehicle in any environment (in their driveway or garage – or in front of their office) and walk around the vehicle to explore it at any angle. They can expand and rotate the vehicle to explore each feature in detail and get a very real sense of what owning the vehicle would feel like.
Each virtual vehicle in Toyota’s immersive AR experience includes a different lifestyle experience, built to appeal to a specific buyer. Customers will also see the most important and relevant standard features called-out as they use the AR, be it AWD, cargo capacity, etc.
Why is Toyota’s Immersive AR Experience a Potential Game Changer?
Most original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)—including those who consider themselves ‘ahead’ in AR—are still using heavy-weight game-engine based experiences in apps to deliver this kind of AR to their customers. Toyota’s immersive AR experience is the equivalent of allowing a customer to experience virtual reality without the heavy goggles. There’s no app to download—no slow processing time—just a seamless ability to place a very real car in your very real home using AR and MR.
Will Toyota’s Immersive AR Experience Pay Off?
In a way, it already is. If nothing else, it’s showing OEMs all over the world that AR doesn’t have to be challenging, clunky, or app-based. It’s showing them that they can now model their cars to people hundreds or thousands of miles awhile without housing vehicles in those specific geographic locations. It’s opening up new markets and removing barriers, and that’s what AR and MR are all about.
Right now, Toyota’s immersive AR is more “cool” than clarifying. Just like dressing rooms that offer AR to show what a new bathing suit looks like without forcing you to try it on, the tech doesn’t necessarily remove the in-person step from the shopping experience. But I think it’s an important next step in digital transformation as companies continue to consider the ability of AR and MR to market products in real-time to end users.
A point worth mentioning is that while AR for test-drives seems like one of the most obvious use-cases for the automotive industry, that’s not the only area in which AR could be helpful. For instance, Hyundai’s AR owner’s manual is hugely beneficial, as it allows users to scan their phone over any area of their car to learn how to care for it. Don’t know how to change the oil—or even where the oil dipper is? Not sure how to put air in the tires or change the tire after it pops? Just scan your phone, and the information is all there at your fingertips. To me, this isn’t just cool, it’s table stakes. These kinds of advancements are what AR and MR are all about. (PS: Hyundai started doing this years ago!)
Toyota’s immersive AR experience is definitely cool—I found myself trying out new vehicles I don’t even need. At the end of the day, though, it didn’t convince me to buy a Toyota, and it wouldn’t prevent me from having to visit a Toyota location if I decided I wanted to. We’ll have to stay tuned to see what the consumer market thinks about it—and how far Toyota will go in advancing the technology if it catches on.
The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.