Driving the congested streets of Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show can be nauseating — even at the best of times. But blocking your view with a virtual reality headset? Of course, this is a recipe for disaster.

I don’t have the strongest stomach; I take Dramamine with me wherever I go. So, during CES 2023, I agreed, with a fair amount of trepidation, to wear a VR headset and experience morning traffic on the Las Vegas Strip from the backseat of a car.

It’s not just any car, though, and it’s not just any VR system. The car, a 1967 Cadillac DeVille, is excellent in many ways, but in this case, it’s notable for being woefully lacking in technology. (Worryingly, it also wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, which thankfully isn’t needed today.) The headset is the HTC VIVE Flow, paired with Holoride’s new retrofit kit, a $199 add-on that lets you Get an in-car VR experience car.

Image credits: Tim Stevens

Holoride was originally launched in partnership with Audi, which began integrating the company’s technology into its cars last year.

Holoride CEO Nils Wollny told me that while they have more OEM partnerships on the horizon (“We can’t announce that just yet”), this retrofit kit could immediately massively expand the product’s market reach. Wollny calls it “an easy way for people who want to drive a Holoride to outfit the car they own, so they don’t need to own the latest Audi.”

All you need is a place to mount the Holoride device, a puck-shaped thing that contains an accelerometer, a high-quality GPS, and a wireless module that connects to the HTC Vive Flow. Stick it on the windshield, turn it on, and you’re good to go. Data from this module drives various app experiences that Holoride offers — all of which include some sort of visual cue to prevent motion sickness.

Holoride Modification Kit CES 2023

Image credits: Tim Stevens

I sat in the Cadillac’s roomy back seat to taste what the package had to offer, and the roomy vinyl might have seen some very different experiences.

I started with Pixel Ripped 1995: On the Road. It’s a Holoride-specific spinoff of the indie VR darling. Here, you’re playing a 2-D platformer on a virtual handheld gaming system (“Gear Kid Color”), sitting in the virtual back seat of a virtual car while your virtual parents gossiping in front.

While you’re actually driving through traffic, the game simulates the world around you: an endless, idyllic neighborhood. It looks nothing like the sprawling excess of Sin City. It does match the general street layout, so when a real car stops at an intersection, the virtual car does too. The game is simple but fun–much better than watching the gridlock outside.

In Cloudbreakers: Leaving Haven, a rogue-like shooter exclusive to Holoride, you pilot a gigantic robot through digital clouds, attacking geometric opponents wave after wave. Around and below you, vertical and horizontal sweeping lines provide a visual representation of the street. When a car makes a turn, the in-game action wiggles left or right to match.

The good news is that while playing these experiences and more, I never felt a tinge of nausea. In fact, I get more motion sickness after 10 minutes in the back of a taxi on the way to my next appointment than I do in 30 minutes in a Cadillac with a VR headset on.

The bad news is that there isn’t a single game currently compelling enough to justify $19.99 per month or $180 per year for Holoride’s service. Wollny said they are working with developers to add more titles to their library at an expected rate of every two weeks.

More of these simple experiences may not be the answer. In my opinion, the killer app here is media consumption. Out of the game, you can mirror your smartphone into VR and jump into any streaming app you like. Holoride software once again renders the virtual landscape like a giant theater screen floating on a moving background, meaning you can enjoy your content without distractions and motion sickness.

Next step? Wollny says they’re trying to get smartphones out of the equation: “We’re currently planning a local movie app or a streaming app where you can also download the latest movie or TV show and just relax and sit back [and watch] on a virtual 180-inch screen. “

Retrofit kits are a great way to bring this technology to more people and put Holoride in reach of more customers.

However, Wollny told me, adding OEM partnerships remains a focus of Holoride’s efforts to make the integration as seamless as possible.

With more and more cars equipped with accelerometers and high-quality GPS, adding support is often just a bit of software.

“We’ve made it as easy as possible for automakers to integrate our solution because it’s an attractive solution for passengers,” Wollny told TechCrunch. “Also, it’s an additional revenue stream for the mobile data they have. They give us the data; we share the revenue with them.”

More recurring revenue plus a happier backseat stomach sounds like a win-win.

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