Virtual reality is having a moment: Real estate agents use it to sell luxury Malibu mansions. Comic-Con fans lined up to experience an action scene from the upcoming “Suicide Squad” film. Coachella music festivalgoers received virtual reality headsets that could display interviews and performances.
Now Mack Trucks Inc. is offering a chance to try out some of a trucker’s toughest jobs — without actually getting behind the wheel.
The Volvo Group subsidiary, is launching a virtual reality test drive of some of its commercial vehicles. There’s no trucking license needed and no risk of crashing.
Virtual reality, for the uninitiated, is a computer-generated simulation of an environment. Users are fully immersed, usually through a headset that restricts the field of vision to only the scene playing out.
This differs from augmented reality, which supplements a perception of the real world with computerized elements (as “Pokemon Go” does) instead of replacing it entirely with a simulation.
The experience mimics a drive using the company’s mDRIVE HD 13-speed automated manual transmission while fully loaded on a steep highway, putting viewers in the cab as it makes tight turns on a bumpy quarry path and gets stuck in a muddy sand pit.
The company hopes the digital drives — each lasting around five minutes — helps demonstrate to clients how its proprietary technology boosts truck performance.
“We know demos sell trucks, and this is the next best thing to actually driving one of our trucks,” said Neil Tolbert, Mack’s director of marketing communications.
Mack says the experience is most vivid using a Google Cardboard headset — a simple cardboard device that folds up to become a viewer headset. It then attaches to a compatible smartphone loaded with Mack’s virtual reality app.
To try, go to http://www.macktrucks.com/VR. Mack is giving away free Cardboard headsets while supplies last. The website also features videos of the experience.
The company is also considering equipping its sales team and dealerships with Samsung Gear VR headsets to allow virtual reality experiences in showrooms.
Interest in virtual reality soared this year, according to a May report from Forrester Research Inc. By 2020, some 52 million virtual reality head-mounted displays will be in enterprise and consumer use in the U.S.— not counting Cardboard, according to Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder.
Retailers and marketers are starting to use virtual reality solutions for what Gownder calls “thorny problems.” Chevrolet, for example, decided to perk up the standard, boring around-the-block test drive by using 360-degree cameras to film its vehicles in action in New Zealand.
The Chevy Go Drive campaign that emerged gave showroom visitors a thrilling virtual reality experience of hurtling through striking “Lord of the Rings”-esque terrain. In his report, Gownder calls virtual reality an “all-purpose experience intensifier.”
“If VR’s done right, it can make any experience novel, compelling and memorable,” he said. “This creates the perfect coincidence of wants — your customer’s brain wants to experience VR at the same time that your marketer’s brain wants to find a way to engage your customer more intensely.”
But most Americans are still unsure about or unaware of virtual reality, according to data this spring from SuperData Research Inc. Nearly half have never heard of any headset brands, while just 16% said they will purchase a device at some point.
Mack’s isn’t the first immersive experience featuring big rigs. Czech video game developer SCS Software released a computer game this year called “American Truck Simulator,” which allows players to take on the perspective of a tractor-trailer driver hauling loads across the U.S.
The game doesn’t play out in virtual reality but still offers an accurate approximation of what it’s like to deliver cargo, earn money and score special permits. The game is based on the company’s 2008 game “Euro Truck Simulator.”