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The automotive extension of reality

The automotive extension of reality

Holoride enables a new world of immersive entertainment in selected Audi models. We met with the founders and developers and gained a look into the history of a high-tech idea.

Copy: Patrick Morda – Photo: Dirk Bruniecki, holoride Reading Time: 5 min

Nils Wollny sitting in the back seat of an Audi wearing VR goggles.Nils Wollny sitting in the back seat of an Audi wearing VR goggles.

From the outside, there's not much to suggest that a part of the digital revolution is being conceived and designed in this building in Munich's Maxvorstadt district. On the fifth floor of a rather functional-looking office building serving as holoride GmbH’s headquarters, around 60 "holoriders" are working on implementing immersive entertainment in vehicles. This is where Nils Wollny, one of the founders, has his office.

However, you will rarely see him there – the tech start-up is currently facing a rather intense and dynamic phase. The 40-year-old is on the road a lot and often, be it around the globe or between desks and computers talking to his colleagues. He often wears virtual reality goggles to immerse himself in the world he and his team want to make accessible to passengers in vehicles. "Studies show that people around the world collectively spend about 400 billion hours in cars. If just a fraction of that time could be put to good use with our services, a lot could be achieved," he says, offering insight into part of the company's mission.

In certain Audi models and markets, backseat passengers will be able to experience movies, video games and interactive content in an immersive manner¹ with the help of VR goggles starting in November. This involves engaging the senses so intensively that the virtual world is perceived as real – this is ultimately what lies behind the term "immersion." For this purpose, holoride is connected to the vehicle system to access the motion data to incorporate acceleration, changes of direction and braking behaviour into the VR experience. They call it "elastic content". The fact that Audi plays a decisive role on this has something to do with Nils Wollny's past.

A scene from the game Cloudbreakers visible on a PC screen.A scene from the game Cloudbreakers visible on a PC screen.
Portrait of Nils Wollny.Portrait of Nils Wollny.

The holoride story begins in the early 2000s – even if indirectly so. "Cars and entertainment," Wollny says looking back, "have always fascinated and driven me." Back then, he wrote his dissertation for and at Audi. "I gave it the title Metrotainment, i.e., entertainment in metropolises. It was about interactive experience formats in urban spaces and the question of how to stage a brand like Audi in this context." Before that, he spent about a year in Los Angeles as an intern at Audi. Since then, Audi and Nils Wollny's professional paths have crossed time and again. After graduating, Wollny initially went to work in an agency in Hamburg, but then in 2015 he moved to Ingolstadt as Head of Digital Business.

View into VR goggles.View into VR goggles.

People around the world collectively spend about 400 billion hours in cars.

Nils Wollny

"I then gave an internal presentation on how automotive manufacturers can become fit for the future to remain part of the value chain when, one day, all vehicles will be automated." Wollny puts an emphasis on in-car entertainment. He soon meets with Daniel Profendiner and Markus Kühne, both of whom are also working on the same major topic for Audi, using a different approach. It was the combination of the different approaches, however, that produced a coherent picture. "That's where engineering and the art of business met," Wollny summarises the initial process. "The three of us then started to build a prototype." Today, the holoride system consists of the VR goggles and a controller connected via Bluetooth – you hardly notice it in the vehicle. Back then, however, in 2016 the necessary equipment was big enough to fill the boot of the car! Initially, there was a lack of computer power, the synchronisation between the car's movements and the virtual reality experience was not perfect, and the VR goggles were still a long way from where they are today. "But all three of us had the feeling that there would be huge potential. And we realised that we would have to go to the U.S. to talk to the big gaming and entertainment players."

Nils Wollny standing at his desk surrounded by his team. His T-shirt reads "Motor Verse".Nils Wollny standing at his desk surrounded by his team. His T-shirt reads "Motor Verse".
A hand and several controllers can be seen.A hand and several controllers can be seen.

It quickly becomes clear that a technology like holoride could turn a vehicle into a new space for entertainment. Just as quickly, it becomes evident that from a media group’s perspective, "holoride would have to be conceived openly for all manufacturers in order to be truly successful and designed in the best sense for consumers," Wollny explains. 2018 sees the founding of holoride GmbH by Wollny, Kühne, Profendiner and Audi. Their vision: an open technology start-up. "I'm still very grateful because I think it's quite unusual for an automaker to let go and accept that it makes more sense to have a smaller part of something big than a big part of something small." At CES 2019 in Las Vegas, they give the first major presentation to a wide audience.

Holoride’s plans are certainly big. "Adding thrill to every ride" (every being the imperative word here) is the company's mission. They even came up with their own cryptocurrency "RIDE", which can be used in the future to buy add-ons and upgrades from inside the car once you enter the holoride universe. And it is with good reason, that the licence plate of the company's own Audi e-tron Sportback*, which Nils Wollny is getting into to get to his next appointment, reads XR for Extended Reality. Everyone working in the nondescript office building in Maxvorstadt is sure that the immersive holoride universe keeps expanding.

The game Beatrider visible on a screen.The game Beatrider visible on a screen.
Nils Wollny wearing VR goggles and moving around the office in front of a projection of a game.Nils Wollny wearing VR goggles and moving around the office in front of a projection of a game.