1670367942 Me Driving Bmw M Mixed Reality 1670256905

I Drove a Real-Life BMW M2 on a Virtual Racetrack

  • BMW’s “M Mixed Reality” puts the user in a real car in a real environment and lets them drive on a digital race track.
  • Wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset and driving a real BMW M2, I got to try out the brand’s mixed reality creation.
  • BMW debuted M Mixed Reality earlier this year, and the technology has great potential as a driver training device.

Driving a real car while wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset is almost always a terrible idea. I say almost always because there’s a time when it’s not only okay, but it’s also a totally awesome (if surreal) experience. And I have the receipts—in the form of this video—to prove it.

BMW’s version of The Matrix

BMW calls its mind-bending creation “M Mixed Reality.” It’s basically a driving simulator, but instead of the typical stationary devices that display virtual racetracks and mimic real-world feedback, the mixed-reality experience lets users drive a real car on a virtual racetrack in a real environment. In this case, it’s the recently unveiled 2023 BMW M2 at the brand’s M Driving Academy in Maisach, Germany.

eric stafford drives a bmw m2 on a virtual race track

BMW

Wearing the VR headset while driving might seem like a scene from the Sandra Bullock movie bird box, but I wasn’t actually driving blind. The headset allowed me to see reality until the virtual part was mixed in. I also had BMW M engineer Alexander Kuttner riding shotgun and giving directions and guidance. Luckily for Kuttner, he had a brake pedal at his side in case things went off the rails.

Virtual track, real car, real consequences

What admittedly sounds like a questionable concept is actually super entertaining and largely accessible, as long as you’re like me and don’t suffer from motion sickness. It also helped to have logged countless hours playing racing video games, as well as previous VR experience. Despite those advantages, it still took me a moment to get my bearings. Never before have I found myself wearing a bulky VR headset when behind the wheel of a real car with 453 horsepower at the disposal of my right foot.

bmw m2 m mixed reality car

BMW

Once I was strapped into the safety harness in the M2’s driver’s seat and the VR headset strapped to my skull, Kuttner directed me to follow a set of cones to a designated location on the runway of the old US military base for which BMW now she uses management academy. The flat asphalt surface and clear environment made for a perfect closed track, which is a necessity for this type of stuff.

When I reached the loading zone, Kuttner activated the mixed-reality sequence, and like Neo in The Matrix I was transported to a new kind of reality where what I did in the virtual world had real consequences. However, I not only survived this experience, I thrived as soon as the virtual environment appeared before my eyes and a disembodied female voice began giving orders.

Mario Kart Meet Forza Motorsport

The rules were simple: It’s a time trial race where the fastest lap wins (although I had no idea what times I was competing against). The digital racetrack I drove had a simple figure-eight configuration. For an added challenge, holographic walls appeared on either side of the track and had to be avoided to receive a time bonus. There were also floating “time coins” with BMW rounds inside that were scattered around the track like item boxes. Mario Kart. Unfortunately, driving through them only unlocked a time bonus rather than a shootable shell or a smooth banana.

bmw m mixed reality race track

BMW

driving shot from bmw's m mixed reality

BMW

Once the game said “GO!” I kicked the M2’s accelerator and felt the familiar sensation of acceleration, yet before me was a road of glowing barriers and floating coins. I could also hear the car’s tires actually scurrying over loose debris on the road surface and the twin-turbo 3.0-liter straight-six sniffing up the rev range. Despite the unmistakable digital world in front of me, the feedback I got from the car made it all feel so incredibly real. Almost immediately I felt comfortable in the driver’s seat and wanted to set the fastest lap possible, forgetting that poor Kuttner was still sitting next to me.

With the VR headset tracking my vision and head movements, I could see my surroundings whenever I wanted, just like in a real car. While I saw the M2’s real dashboard and my hands on the real steering wheel, everything else I saw was a virtual perspective. The technology also captures the car’s actual movements and transfers it to what I saw. It’s this blending of digital visual cues with actual gravitational forces that makes M Mixed Reality feel so surreal, and it’s something I’ve never experienced before in a driving simulator.

I hope to get another chance one day as I only had the opportunity to do one warm up lap and one hot lap before I had to go back to the temporary pits. Still, it was easily the coolest thing I’ve done in a while and something I hope BMW will take from mixed reality to actuality.

The future of driving simulators?

BMW introduced its M Mixed Reality technology earlier this year, but it wasn’t until last week during a trip to Germany with the automaker that I had the opportunity to try it out. There, BMW M CEO Frank van Meel told me that the mixed-reality technology is ideal for training racers, as it can be far more immersive compared to even the most advanced driving simulators.

Of course, I can think of much wider uses for BMW’s innovative technology than simply a tool for teaching professional drivers. How about a training method for first responders or even first time drivers? The possibilities seem endless. On a more philosophical level, M Mixed Reality effectively shows how the digital world and real world can be successfully merged.

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