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Virtual backseat driver

Valeo Voyage XR streams an avatar into the back seat. Photo: Valeo

Valeo, a global auto supplier, has figured out how to teleport someone into your vehicle using virtual reality.

Why it matters: If an AV needed help, a safety driver could virtually step in and take control using remote control technology.

Background: In many states where AVs are being tested, teleoperation — or remote guidance — is required for safety.

  • Most AV companies have a teleops command center where trained drivers monitoring multiple screens are prepared to offer guidance if an AV encounters a situation that's confusing, like a construction zone or a double-parked car.
  • Sometimes, an operator is even able to remotely take control of the vehicle to steer around the obstacle and get it back on track.

What's new: Valeo's Drive4U Remote technology can do this, but adds another layer of intervention by simulating the virtual presence of a person in the car with you through its Voyage XR technology. Both innovations were unveiled at CES.

  • During a demo last week at Valeo's Silicon Valley R&D center, I donned a VR headset and held a pair of controllers, then sat in an office chair while my avatar popped into the back seat of a car being driven by a Valeo engineer.
  • Later, we swapped places and she rode along virtually with me, chatting and interacting by displaying her photos on my car's touchscreen.
  • As virtual passengers, we each got to select a personal avatar which was displayed in the car's rearview mirror.

VR is already on its way into cars. Audi and Disney also made a splash at CES with their debut of a new Holoride system that lets passengers play video games or immerse themselves in other experiences.

My thought bubble: It all sounds like a big distraction to me, but I suppose it could be useful when we are passengers, not drivers, in autonomous vehicles.

Valeo has more mundane uses in mind for VR in the car, too.

  • It could be used to train truck drivers, for example, or to let parents keep an eye on teen drivers. 
  • Or, it could even let you to take loved ones on a road trip without having to pay for an extra hotel room.