MOTOR TREND //
EVOX IMAGES is positioned to take you on a virtual shopping trip for a new car. Or help designers determine the best headlights and color schemes for a future product. Or offer automakers an easier way to clinic some new vehicles in the works.
The California-based company has a blend of old-school assets and cutting-edge technology that might dovetail with a world ready to embrace virtual reality as the next best way to shop online. Evox was founded in 1995 by an aerospace engineer who wanted to use software for virtual reality in the auto industry. Virtual reality didn’t take off in the ’90s—it made people nauseous—so Evox concentrated on 2D images and over two decades has built a photo library of more than 8,500 vehicles dating back to 2000, said Dave Weber, vice president of sales and marketing. Its 360-degree images are already used by about 22,000 dealer websites.
The company, based in Rancho Dominguez, has five studios and robotic camera setups where each vehicle undergoes about 60 standardized 2D and 3D shots so all show the same angles and features, said Pat Hadnagy, vice president, virtual reality. They can shoot and process images for up to 25 cars a week and add about 650 new vehicles to the library each year. So far about 1,000 have been shot in 3D so Evox is ready when virtual reality takes off. Because they are photo-based, they do not appear cartoony like today’s 3D video games.
Evox created the RelayCars app earlier this year, which has about 20 cars available to view in VR, and the company is preparing to pull in trucks from its vast library. Available from the Samsung Gear VR store, the app has about 480,000 downloads to date.
RelayCars allows car buyers to slap on a pair of VR glasses and view a virtual showroom. A demo with an Android phone imbedded into a headset shows the ability to view a car in a showroom on a turntable that spins to view it from all sides. Click to see it in any of the manufacturer-offered colors. Explore the interior and change it up: switch to a manual transmission or change the color and fabric on the seats. Get pricing and other information from a dropdown menu. Take it for a virtual test drive and listen to the rev of the engine. Click to be transported to a beach to view some convertibles or experience some muscle cars in a warehouse.
Weber sees it appealing to the lease customer who trades in every two years, already knows how his vehicle drives, and wants to view the upgrades for the next model before putting in his order. It is also a solution for the dealer with a small showroom or lot who can give customers a virtual walkaround of a vehicle stored elsewhere.
There are about a million VR headsets in use in the U.S., mostly by video gamers, Hadnagy said. He and Weber are convinced it is poised to go mainstream as the next best way to do online shopping. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has decided virtual reality is the next step in social media—he bought Oculus Rift to push social media to VT.
Evox is convinced VR’s time has come with a growing number of manufacturers making the googles for as little as $5 for Google Cardboard VR goggles that can be easily folded and distributed. Sony is expected to offer one in time for Christmas which will further increase volumes.
Evox is talking to Detroit automakers as well as clients in Europe to set up licensing deals to use their images and virtual reality capability. The product has applications for automakers, dealers and media for everything from product development, customer clinics and sales to advertising and marketing, Weber said.
An automaker can license a customized version of their showroom that has detail on their products and popups to the location of the nearest dealer.
An automaker in development can have a protected site with their products added to a competitive set to compare headlights or wheels in a crowded showroom.
Using virtual reality in a consumer clinic allows the automaker to gauge reaction to the product using biometric feedback to measure what catches the eye and gauge the emotional response, generating hard data on that all-important first reaction. Weber said there are companies doing parallel research to see how closely a virtual clinic mirrors a real one. Evox also worked with Mini to create some VR films which can be downloaded.
The system also offers a way to provide sales training at the dealership, Weber said.