Augmented reality (AR) blends the real world with virtual elements, making it an ideal technology to apply to videogames.
In fact it has already been used liberally by a number of the biggest names in the industry, including Nintendo and Microsoft. But in most cases the AR experiences are distinct games in their own right, rather than additions to existing franchises or genres.
Because of this you might assume that there’s no place for AR in the world of driving games. Racing sims already try to be as realistic as possible, so if you’re removing the main benefits of virtual vehicles, why not just get behind the wheel of a real car?
You’ll be surprised to learn that there are a number of AR driving projects in the pipeline at the moment. This technology is set to shake up the racing genre and make fans reassess what to expect from an interactive automotive experience, both at home and on the move.
You’ve probably seen current-gen VR and AR headsets, like the Microsoft Hololens. Even the most cutting edge on the market at the moment are still relatively large, and create some kind of obstruction for the wearer. Regulators and the police are not likely to respond well to the idea of someone getting in a car and driving while they have a hefty plastic peripheral strapped across their face.
Because of this, manufacturers are looking at ways of building AR into the windscreen itself. Japanese giant Toyota patented this type of setup back in 2016. And in everyday use it will be a natural evolution of existing heads-up displays.
With AR, rather than just showing the current speed of the vehicle on the windscreen, more impressive features will be available. As autonomous driving sensors become more common, cars will be able to detect lots of data about their surroundings and feed this info back via a full-screen display.
Letting drivers know the distance to the vehicle in front, warning them of any obstacles and even directing them to their destination with a path overlaid on the road will eventually be possible.
So far this may all sound moderately exciting, but what about the other applications of these systems that go beyond everyday transport?
Modern driving games are effectively photorealistic. But not matter how many hours you spend learning the twists and turns of real world race tracks, you’ll find that these skills aren’t all that transferable if you ever get the chance to visit them in person.
It’s all theoretical at the moment, but cars with AR displays or compatible headsets could become the perfect training tool, just as online driving games are today. Drivers from across the world could experience the thrills and spills of various popular courses without having to travel thousands of miles for the privilege. All you need is some open space and the right track data loaded into the AR system, and voila!
There are clear applications for this technology when it comes to teaching people how to drive, even if autonomous cars might make this redundant sooner rather than later. But what will AR bring to the table once humans are no longer needed at the controls of the vehicles they drive?
Games developers and movie firms are already trying to get ahead of the self-driving vehicle market by developing in-car entertainment options to fight back against boredom in decades to come.
Software which turns the interior of a car into an approximation of the Batmobile is already in the works. This is not only a fun way to pass the time on a journey for occupants, but an opportunity for businesses to find new ways to advertise their products and services to consumers.
Roadside ads may go the way of the dodo, but with AR it will be possible for digital marketing to pop up along routes. Meanwhile the process of driving is handled autonomously, leaving passengers free to enjoy an in-car racing game without putting themselves or other road users at risk.
Virtual reality has already proven itself to be a valuable addition to driving games. And augmented reality throws up even more opportunities for fun of a different kind. Given that people spend hundreds of hours in their cars each year when they commute, it might even bring racing titles to the masses in a way that hasn’t been possible in the past.
Rest assured that a lot of these changes are several years away from hitting the mainstream. But early developments are providing a tantalising glimpse of what awaits fans of driving games just over the horizon.