We have all heard the instruction to dealers to “go digital”, but that has become a catch-all phrase for everything, from using WhatsApp to prospect to completely digitising your dealership.
On the most advanced edge of the spectrum are digital prophets that say we will soon don a virtual headset; test drive a car and buy it in virtual reality. Can it be done?
Dealerfloor recently met with Gerald Ferreira from Virtual Reality South Africa (VRSA), a Johannesburg-based virtual reality software and content provider, on the virtual campus of Pretoria University. VRSA digitised the main campus and met us in the Engineering Department.
“The field of virtual reality is changing every day, so it sometimes feels like the Wild West,” says Gerald. “So, to start you have to familiarise yourself with the difference between 3DOF and 6DOF.”
Gerald explains that DOF refers to ‘degrees of freedom’ with 3DOF offering three degrees of rotational freedom and 6DOF also including your position in the virtual world. Put more simply, 3DOF technology would find you staring at your phone or laptop and moving around with your mouse (like we did on the UP campus), while 6DOF will see you wearing a virtual headset and literally walking around in a three-dimensional space.
“Both are possible with the technology freely available in South Africa, but 3DOF is perhaps more realistic in an environment where you are walking customers through your dealership and they don’t have a headset like the Oculus Quest at home,” says Gerald.
The list of 3DOF technology includes virtual video. Here you would use a 360-degree camera like the GoPro Fusion and record a virtual video that can be hosted on Facebook or YouTube.
In this instance, you would not interact with clients, but they would be able to view a walk-through of the dealership or drive in a car, from the comfort of their own homes. They will also be able to look around with their mouse, including up, down and behind them while watching the video.
“Beyond that, the options are quite sexy. You could digitise the environment with a high-definition camera that is placed in your dealership and that slowly rotates. As it moves, it takes depth measurements and very high-definition pictures. This creates an environment in which you can move around, either with a mask (6DOF) or a mouse (3DOF), but because everything is in proportion, you don’t feel seasick,” says Gerald.
Moving even closer to the cutting edge would be digitising the environment. This would require a company like VRSA to recreate the environment in cyberspace. Now, the environment moves from a static recreation to a vibrant digital world in which you can literally kick the tyres.
“There are ways that you can combine the technologies to meet your exact needs. For instance, you could do a virtual recording of the environment and then add a digital layer to create augmented reality. Imagine looking at the engine in virtual reality and its specs pop up or you see the turbocharger working, that’s augmented reality,” says Gerald.
The best solution may be to combine different technologies, which is being done on the UP campus.
Here you can walk around campus from your living room or choose a live video where you look around as the virtual video moves between students or inside a lecture hall.
Then you can visit a digitised room where you can do an experiment or play with digital equipment. This is ideal for university roadshows where they put prospective students inside the world with a virtual headset.
Lastly, you can enter virtual offices, where you can do a video chat or live video 3D walk-around with a university counsellor.
“The options are endless, but we are still in the VHS versus Betamax phase. I would suggest you start with small and affordable experiments before you invest in all the technology. Or better yet, choose a hosted environment like UP, where you can drop in new technologies and experiment as they become available,” says Gerald.
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