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Virtual Reality Powers Remote Driving

Rising numbers of fatal road accidents has become a bone of contention in recent years. According to a World Health Organization report, 1.25 million people died in road accidents in 2015. While legal bodies and governments across the world are making efforts to control such casualties through stringent methods, technology growing in leaps and bounds to help people – especially the drunk – reach home safe. Virtual reality is one such platform that automobile manufacturers are leveraging to ensure safer drives.

Hyundai is a case in point. In 2015, the South Korean automobile maker unveiled a prototype of the Avatar Drive. Powered by virtual reality technology, the Avatar Drive allows a person to sit in a remote console and maneuver a car located miles away. The user straps on a Samsung Gear VR headset which provides images in and around the remote vehicle. The console allows the user to start the vehicle, accelerate, brake and steer it through real time traffic towards its destination. This technology can provide a major boost to curb drink driving and casualties associated with it.

Virtual reality has been a technology evolving at a rapid pace in recent times. From expensive rides at Disneyland to effectively priced headsets, virtual reality has penetrated through multiple industries. However, driving a vehicle using a virtual reality headsets and a remote station is a first of its kind. Initially the user is provided with a remote station which includes a steering console, accelerator brake and clutch pedals and a gear shift. The partner vehicle is equipped with cameras that can provide a driver’s view live to the virtual reality head set. These cameras move in the same direction as the remote driver’s head movements, providing a realistic and true feel of driving.

Patent US6108031A assigned to Kaman Sciences Corporation describes such technology. It speaks of a remote control system that allows a human operator to manage a motor vehicle located elsewhere. The vehicle is equipped with two cameras to binocularly view the surroundings. The human operator is provided with a virtual reality headset to get a three-dimensional realistic view of the surroundings of the remote vehicle. This helps the human operator to remotely control the car and drive through the route map.

Patent US 6108031A assigned to Kaman Sciences Corporation describes a remote control system for controlling a motor vehicle by a human operator at a remote control station.

Such technology is especially helpful in situations where one needs to help a distressed driver reach a safe destination. For instance, if a driver experiences a heart attack while on the road, he/she can activate an SOS button that allows an operator to remotely drive the vehicle and help the patient reach the nearest medical centre. Racing can also be turned into a safer sport where racers can remotely manage a vehicle. While the thrill of driving along a race track at high speed remains, in case of an accident, the driver is still safe within the remote console. This technology can also be extended to miners who can remotely drive mining vehicles down the shafts, protecting themselves from mining hazards such as caving of walls and harmful radiation.

Honda Motor Corp. has also been actively researching in remote driving technology. In November 2014, the company filed an interesting patent US20160147233A1, which describes a technology that displays the surroundings of a remote vehicle to an output device situated elsewhere.

Honda Motor Corp.’s patent US 20160147233A1 describes a technology that displays the surroundings of a remote vehicle to an output device situated remotely.

On a similar note is patent US8301318B2 owned by defense and space company Robotic Research Llc. This patent explains a technology where a remote station is equipped with graphical user interface and is configured to display a synthetic view of the surroundings. Although this system is used to control a robotic vehicle and not an actual car, the scope of this invention is huge.

Robotic Research owns a patent US8301318B2 that describes a technology where a remote station is equipped with graphical user interface and is configured to display a synthetic view of the surroundings.

It is evident from the patent filing trends in this space that the automobile industry is headed towards integrating virtual reality to make travel safer. The quick pace at which this technology is evolving promises a safer travel experience in the near future.