Following up from my adventures with Mercedes/Epson augmented reality at the Chinese Grand Prix, the Visa e-Prix in Paris provided a couple of new ideas which would seem to be way ahead of anything that has been thought about by the Formula One group. Formula E has been into eSports from the start, initially with virtual races between fans and Formula E drivers. Since then this was developed into virtual races between the drivers and in Paris there was also an event which was billed as the eRace, in which no fewer than nine Formula E drivers went head-to-head with a member of the public in a virtual race, commentary and all. Visa funded the whole thing as part of its strategy to engage with the digital savvy audiences of today. The eRace was shown on the screens around the track and provided some entertainment, not least because it all ended up with a dramatic last lap, which is easy when you are competing in a virtual world, in which you can only kill yourself virtually…
Elsewhere in Formula E, the San Francisco-based Virtually Live company was busy testing its latest product. The company works on the basis that sporting events are not as exciting as they could be if one simply watches them on TV but cannot attend because they are too far away, or cost too much to attend. The alternative is to take fans into the world of Formula E using virtual reality techniques. The theory is that if everyone can have the best seat in the house, sports can make more money. It means that races that are sold out can still be seen close up. The key is recreating the atmosphere, the social interaction, the electricity and the sense of being there. Virtually Live does this using data to create not only a virtual stadium, but also what it hopes will one day be real time action. If all goes to plan, fans would be able to pick any viewing position, move around, talk to other fans, see all the data they want to see and even ride with, above or alongside the cars. This involves building virtual models of the circuits and then getting access to data from the cars. Graphics are improving all the time, as can be seen from some of the games that are now on the market, and virtual experiences are on their way to becoming photo-real. Telling the real from the virtual is becoming harder. This has already happened in the cinema, where CGI landscapes and creatures have reached impressive levels. The developers also see huge value in fans being able to interact with one another in this virtual world, sitting together and even discussing the action as it happens. There are, of course, technological limitations at the moment, with development needed in areas such as facial tracking to capture emotions and there is a time delay in rendering any event (currently about six seconds). But progress is being made and this year there are a range of new headsets that will make things ever more real
There are some glitches, but one can not only get into any of the cars and even get out and travel beside them. At the moment the cars are still driving through one another but in future this will be fixed and it one runs into another, there will be suitable bumping felt through the handset.
The whole experience is controlled using what amounts to a laser-style pointer that allows one to navigate around not only the cars, but also the paddock, while also giving access to data. All of this requires the teams to provide large amounts of data from the cars. This is built in to Formula E, but would be hard to achieve with the paranoid world of F1, where people like keeping secrets because… well, they like keeping secrets.