Microsoft Volvo Join Hands For VR Showrooms And Autonomous Cars

  • Microsoft has entered a wide-ranging partnership with car maker Volvo.
  • An impressive demonstration shows how the Microsoft AR headset HoloLens permits creating virtual car showrooms.
  • The demonstration video brings high resolution 3D models of Volvo’s new S90 premium sedan to life as holograms floating in mid air.
  • Future collaborations will address connected and autonomous self-driving cars.
  • The benefits of the Volvo partnership for Microsoft are manifold.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has entered a wide-ranging partnership with car maker Volvo for applications of advanced computer technology to different aspects of the automotive industry, from online showrooms based on VR and AR technology to autonomous self-driving cars. The two companies revealed how Microsoft's Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) headset HoloLens could redefine car showrooms, as well as how cars might be bought and sold in future. An impressive demonstration given at Microsoft’s global headquarters shows how AR allows customers to explore configure cars in three dimensions.

“HoloLens offers the freedom to create a bespoke experience which customers can steer themselves," said Volvo Senior Vice President Björn Annwall. "Imagine using mixed reality to choose the type of car you want - to explore the colours, rims, or get a better understanding of the features, services and options available."

Microsoft's HoloLens, a stand-alone computer embedded in an AR headset, brings high-definition holograms to life, seamlessly integrating with the physical world in "mixed reality." The device, which resembles a pair of ski goggles, hints at sci-fi-like computing. The Microsoft demonstration video brings high resolution 3D models of Volvo’s new S90 premium sedan to life as holograms floating in mid air. The customer can rotate the car, zoom on the internal parts, and take the car to a simulated road test. This is one among many initiatives by Microsoft in the virtual/augmented reality space, like the acquisition of Havok for VR game development, and the partnership between Facebook's Oculus and Microsoft's Xbox.

“The opportunity with mixed reality is you can get under the skin of the car," said Volvo VP Thomas Andersson, Bloomberg Business reports. "It’s a much richer experience with more texture to it."

Microsoft is trying to line up corporate applications and customers for HoloLens, scheduled for early delivery to developers early next year. The Volvo video provides a demonstration of how VR and AR technologies can be used to bring all sorts of consumer and industrial products to life.

Time Magazine picked the Hololens as number one tech gadget of 2015. "Wear the HoloLens, and holographic images will suddenly appear around your physical environment," notes Time's review. "The headset is potentially useful for professionals from surgeons to space astronauts." In fact, NASA scientists are using HoloLens applications to collaboratively explore Mars with data from the Curiosity rover.

According to Microsoft, holograms mixed with the real world will unlock new ways to create, communicate, work, and play. "Once you use HoloLens, there’s no going back," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

“We are thrilled to be working with Volvo Cars to reimagine what is possible in car design, discovery and purchasing," said Scott Erickson, Senior Director for Microsoft HoloLens. "We are excited to be at this intersection of technology and human-centric design with Volvo."

Besides virtual experiences for marketing, Erickson mentioned car design. In fact, the plans for the Microsoft partnership with Volvo are deeper and more ambitious than VR showrooms. Future collaborations could include autonomous driving technologies and the utilization of data generated from connected cars to create new services. Volvo announced a program called Drive-Me in which 100 self-driving and connected cars will be given to real customers on real roads around the Swedish city of Gothenburg by 2017, the world’s largest autonomous driving experiment.

"We are extremely happy to innovate with Microsoft in the field of future mobility,” said Volvo Senior VP and CIO Klas Bendrik. "Today’s technology will allow us to achieve not only a more sustainable and crash-free future but also new benefits for our customers and society. Together with Microsoft we aim to pioneer in this field."

CNBC notes that the move highlights the trend for technology companies to jump into the automotive sector. Alphabet Inc-C (NASDAQ:GOOG), Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), and Toyota Motor Corp (NYSE:TM), are all betting on computer-assisted driving and, eventually, fully autonomous cars. The first operational, autonomous vehicles of several car makers are scheduled to hit the roads around 2020.

The benefits of the Volvo partnership for Microsoft are manyfold. First, the VR showroom demonstration shows the power of the HoloLens as Microsoft gets ready to deploy it to businesses and consumers. Second, the utilization of data generated by connected cars is an ideal application of Microsoft's cloud computing technologies. Third, Microsoft needs to enter the field of software technologies for autonomous cars, which promises to become one of the main growth sectors in the computing industry, and the Volvo partnership provides an ideal opportunity. Therefore, the Volvo partnership contributes to Microsoft stock remaining a buy-and-hold.

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