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Why Honda is venturing into Oculus’ virtual world

| Research and Development | 10/24/2014

Honda Silicon Valley Lab use Oculus Rift Headset

Why Honda is venturing into Oculus’ virtual world
Date: Oct 23, 2014
Source: Automotive News – by Gabe Nelson

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — From the back seat of an Acura MDX, I peered out at a stone house on a cliff, fields of wind-swept grass and blue butterflies close enough to touch.

All of it was a mirage.

In reality, I was in the parking lot of the Honda Silicon Valley Lab here. Strapped to my head was a virtual reality headset called the Oculus Rift, which looks like a pair of black ski goggles but bulkier and with ominous protruding wires.

Two of the engineers from Honda’s r&d laboratory sat in the front seat. One guided the MDX through the parking lot, and the other held a laptop. But inside the Oculus Rift goggles, I was cruising through a virtual world, craning my neck to take in the scenery as we soared above a facsimile of a Tuscan cliff.

When I took off the headset, I returned — with some regret — to Honda’s drab parking lot. I asked Nick Sugimoto, senior program director at the laboratory, how Honda could possibly use the Oculus Rift for anything more than a curiosity.

“We’re in the middle of brainstorming that right now,” Sugimoto said.

That answer says a great deal about why automakers and suppliers have flocked to Silicon Valley in such great numbers over the past half decade.

To be sure, their laboratories have produced some concrete products. Sugimoto’s team worked closely with Apple Inc. and Google Inc. on the new CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces for smartphones.

But another big part of the job is toying with the latest and greatest in technology, to make sure that cars do not fall too far behind laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Take the Oculus Rift. Invented by an Irvine, Calif., startup called Oculus VR, it has done what past headsets failed to do: make it feel convincing, not just dizzying, to move through a virtual world. Seeing the potential for everything from video games to military training, Facebook acquired the startup in early 2014 for $2 billion.

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