Volvo Cars invests in VR startup to aid driver safety

Volvo Cars has invested millions in Varjo Technologies Oy which developed a headset with screens and cameras which can be used to allow engineers to test-drive cars to dodge hazards. (Reuters pic)

STOCKHOLM: Volvo Cars has made a multi-million euro investment in Varjo Technologies Oy, whose headset with screens and cameras can be used to allow engineers to test-drive cars to dodge hazards such as virtual moose.

Varjo – founded by Nokia Oyj and Microsoft Corp alumni – has been developing an augmented-reality headset with a significantly higher image resolution than those produced by its rivals, costing US$5,995 plus camera add-ons.

Backed by Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom’s Atomico and EQT Ventures, the company developed the capability to merge high-resolution video of the real world with digitally rendered objects.

“We can simulate a pedestrian or an animal walking out in front of the car, and you can use the sensors in the headset to track the eye movements of the person wearing the device,” Zaki Fasihuddin, head of Volvo Cars Tech Fund said in a phone interview. “This type of technology can help us learn a lot more about how to make our products safer and more user-friendly.”

Volvo has built a reputation for safety over decades, being among the first carmakers to introduce features such as three-point seat belts and side-impact protection.

Its engineers and designers have been using the headsets to test-drive cars, adding elements such as road hazards and trialling different interior design aspects.

While many of the initial promises of virtual-reality headsets for consumers have been slow to materialise, Varjo is instead targeting the professional market, with companies like Siemens AG and the US Air Force trialling the gear to develop use cases.

Volvo declined to comment on the exact investment size.

Varjo has raised just under US$50 million so far to develop the headsets, and has also worked with car companies including Audi and BMW