It’s in the game: Streaming technology enhances possibilities for new and immersive car configurators

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Where would you apply streaming technology in your business?

By launching a streaming service for video games, Google has been featured in many news lately (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/19/technology/google-stadia-video-game-streaming.html). And not only Google is working on interactive streaming technology. Big tech companies such as Nvidia, Microsoft, or Sony are also working towards a technology that not only lets you consume content passively but lets you influence it in real time (https://gizmodo.com/all-the-game-streaming-services-google-stadia-is-up-aga-1833457411). So other than watching a predefined Netflix video, users of game streaming can manipulate the content. This is exactly what made this technology so challenging in the past. Now, with services such as Google Stadia available, there are applications of the basic technology behind this that go beyond the gaming industry.

In the automotive industry, car configurators have come a long way from looking like a video game from the last decade to important sales tools. But one problem remains: To create compelling high-quality visuals of a customer’s dream car based on the given inputs, large amounts of computing power need to be available instantaneously. In my experience, customers expect the visuals of a configurator to be photorealistic to help them visualize what their configured car will look like in reality. At the same time, customers are used to digital technology reacting immediately and not having to wait several seconds after each input for new images to be rendered.

For car configurators to be able to live up to these expectations, this currently still means that potent hardware needs to be in place right at the site where the configuration is done. Game streaming technology has the potential to change this. By freeing the configuration experience from physical hardware requirements, configurators can be employed strategically at important moments of truth along the customer journey, where this was previously impossible possible.

To illustrate this, lets have a look at the three most promising use cases:

Dealership visit

Car dealerships still play an important role in vehicle sales (https://www.capgemini.com/2018/03/retail-offensive-part-three-from-point-of-sale-to-point-of-experience/). 67% of all customers still want to visit a dealership two to three times before purchasing a car (Capgemini Cars Online 2017). Configurating a car together with a knowledgeable salesperson is an integral part of this experience. We know from our project experience that to enable a convincing configuration experience, currently a gaming-grade computer workstation is required to be up and running at the dealership site. Furthermore, the configuration software run on the workstation needs to be updated regularly, often in a manual process.

The consequences are obvious: Pricy hardware needs to be purchased and maintained, which requires significant investments of time and budget. These costs typically need to be covered by the dealer as even financially well-equipped OEMs are rarely willing to cover these costs for their whole dealer network. This in turn means, that only large and solvent dealerships will invest in this. So, the technology cannot benefit each dealer and improve each customer’s experience.

Streaming technology will be helpful in this case. Equipped with a suitable internet connection (https://www.capgemini.com/2018/12/the-five-in-5g/), dealers only need to invest in the “frontend technology” for a configurator (i.e., screens and input devices). The configuration is then streamed onto these devices, providing an equally good configuration experience as the on-site hardware-based solution at a potentially lower cost to the dealer.

Virtual reality experience

A dealership visit is not always an option for every customer at every stage of her purchasing journey. Consequently, the option to provide a convincing and realistic configuration experience at home is highly relevant. Technologies that are more immersive than standard visualizations on a 2D screen are promising. Sixty-two percent of all customers say they would be interested in experiencing a car in virtual reality (Capgemini Cars Online 2017).

A photorealistic VR experience however comes with a string of technical requirements attached. On the one hand, there are devices; while professional VR goggles are becoming more affordable and thus widespread, there are even much easier and cheaper options to experience VR, such as Google Cardboard. One the other hand, there is the hardware required to create real-time, high-definition images. This goes beyond of what typical consumer devices are currently capable of.

Streaming technology could again be a solution here. In the easiest setup, customers can stream a VR configurator application on their phone that is placed into Google Cardboard goggles. This would enable a user to have a much more immersive and realistic configuration experience with almost no additional effort from her side.

Mobile configuration

Finally, consumers are increasingly used to having access to all relevant information and experiences on the go. Configurating a car on a mobile device becomes increasingly relevant, but is challenging due to the limited screen size of most phones and tablets.

If used intelligently however, a simplified and intuitive user interface can help customers to get to know their dream car on a mobile device. Moreover, the unique combination of technologies built into mobile devices can also be leveraged to create additional value in the configuration experience. For example, the motion sensors of a tablet could be used to let you move virtually trough the interior of a car by moving the tablet around.

Use cases like these again require a significant hardware performance, that not every mobile device is able to deliver. With a strong internet connection in place, the image generation could again be outsourced to the cloud via streaming technology. This would enable all users with any device to configure a car on the go.

Essentially, we see from these use cases that game streaming technology has the potential to take car configuration experiences to another level. A more convincing and realistic customer experience will drive sales along the process. For this to happen, it will be interesting to see how Google Stadia and its competitors fare in the gaming business and when the technology will be mature enough to be employed in configurators.

How do you feel about the use cases outlined above? Where would you apply streaming technology in your business? Let’s discuss!

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