Castrol Virtual Drift: Hacking Code at 80MPH with a Driver in a VR Helmet

Driving a brand new 670 horsepower Roucsh stage 3 Mustang while wearing virtual reality goggles. Sounds nuts right? That’s exactly what Castrol Oil’s advertising agency came up with though. They didn’t want to just make a commercial though – they wanted to do the real thing. Enter [Adam and Glenn], the engineers who were tasked with getting data from the car into a high end gaming PC. The computer was running a custom simulation under the Unreal Engine. El Toro field provided a vast expanse of empty tarmac to drive the car without worry of hitting any real world obstacles.

The Oculus Rift was never designed to be operated inside a moving vehicle, so it presented a unique challenge for [Adam and Glenn]. Every time the car turned or spun, the Oculus’ on-board Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) would think driver [Matt Powers] was turning his head. At one point [Matt] was trying to drive while the game engine had him sitting in the passenger seat turned sideways. The solution was to install a 9 degree of freedom IMU in the car, then subtract the movements of that IMU from the one in the Rift.

GPS data came from a Real Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS unit. Unfortunately, the GPS had a 5Hz update rate – not nearly fast enough for a car moving close to 100 MPH. The GPS was relegated to aligning the virtual and real worlds at the start of the simulation. The rest of the data came from the IMUs and the car’s own CAN bus. [Adam and Glenn] used an Arduino with a Microchip mcp2515 can bus interface  to read values such as steering angle, throttle position, brake pressure, and wheel spin. The data was then passed on to the Unreal engine. The Arduino code is up on Github, though the team had to sanitize some of Ford’s proprietary CAN message data to avoid a lawsuit. It’s worth noting that [Adam and Glenn] didn’t have any support from Ford on this, they just sniffed the CAN network to determine each message ID.

The final video has the Hollywood treatment. “In game” footage has been replaced with pre-rendered sequences, which look so good we’d think the whole thing was fake, that is if we didn’t know better.

Click past the break for the final commercial and some behind the scenes footage.

29 thoughts on “Castrol Virtual Drift: Hacking Code at 80MPH with a Driver in a VR Helmet

  1. Neat blend of CGI and although this was undoubtedly not shot in one take, it still looks impressive. But I still don’t understand why putting titanium in oil actually helps anything? Cutting titanium is already a pain as it is on a mill. Why would you want to intentionally put titanium in your oil?

      1. “Titanium nitride (TiN) (sometimes known as “Tinite” or “TiNite” or “TiN”) is an extremely hard ceramic material, often used as a coating on titanium alloys, steel, carbide, and aluminium components to improve the substrate’s surface properties.”

        Assuming they are suggesting TiN or something like that, not sure you want to be putting hard ceramics in your steel and aluminum engine! There is a reason hard ceramics coatings are used to cut steel (more so) and aluminum (not as much).

        My understanding was it was less slippery and more “hard” and “ceramic” so it didn’t break down quickly when cutting relatively hard materials and also helps retain the sharp edge of the cutting tool longer.

    1. No idea, I looked at the MSDS for the old and it says 1-5% Trade Secret, so who knows exactly what it is. Don’t confuse titanium metal (Which is no worse to machine than stainless) with titanium compounds, they have totally different properties. Like PWalsh says, titanium nitride is a common coating on a lot of wear parts, but this is a coating that is put on with a reactive physical vapor deposition system.

  2. Is the idea here that the simulation is so good that it puts the car where the actual car goes, based on the real car and the sim having the same input? If so, I would have hoped for a result on how well this worked out.
    If not, then why would feed the car inputs into the sim at all? They could have just used the imu data from the car and the headset to get the vectors for moving the virtual car and the pov.

    1. >then why would feed the car inputs into the sim at all?

      because that contraption didnt work at all = they had to make some, any content for the stupid PR video

      There was only one thing missing from all of this, a KICKSTARTER! :D after all tehy have a brilliant idea that ‘almost works’ and with little more work an moneys you could be drifting too!!1

  3. I’ve never tried it but would it theoretically be possible to have a dozen gps sensors and time them and tie all the data together to obtain a faster responce time?

      1. Doing the math, one 10Hz on it’s own would still be a little slow for my liking. Four would be plenty provided you could get at least two of them to return a value.
        Having your own beakon system (like the ones used for drones) might be a good way to avoid black spots. (mounted on all self driving cars, so they form thier own mesh network) not so viable during the switch over but once the systems up and running it could make for a good improvement.

  4. Typical beer commercial: Use our product, and hot inebriated babes will want to party with you.
    Castrol Titanium commercial: Use our product, and the ground will come alive and try to eat you.

    Hmm. Don’t think I’ll be having any of that motor oil, no-sir.

  5. It would have been impressive if they had placed big concrete blocks all over the place and not hit them while driving blind.
    But now they were only driving around on an empty runway.

  6. Leslie R. Rudnick, Lubricant Additives: Chemistry and Applications, Second Edition :
    “[…] More recently, a number of oil-soluble organometallic compounds, for example, organic acid salts, amine salts, oxygenates, phtalates and sulfonates of titanium, zirconium, and manganese have been claimed to be effective stabilizers for lubricants […]”

    Some MSDS claim 5mg/g titanium content.

  7. Given how people didn’t like putting on light glasses for 3D, how is VR going to succeed with the GINORMOUS helmet? Even the bulk of Occulus is about the size of a brick.

  8. If I had to bet, perhaps another avenue for oil to go down would possibly be nano ball bearing perhaps made of titanium or some compound thereof, in a suspension in the oil. This would be different than molybdenum disulphide, which works great in plastics, but not so much in practice for oils as the filter took them out. Nano ball bearings may, and again, I’m just guessing here, may be small enough to pass though the filter, but still be effective as a wear surface.

  9. Even if this has good immersion (vibration, inertia), it breaks when physics in the virtual world don’t cause a reaction in the real world. Your sensory input takes cues from more than eyes and perception. If he hits a bump in the virtual world, it doesn’t translate to the car physically, and thus he either believes he missed the bump or the ground isn’t real at all. Imagine hitting a virtual tree and bracing for impact just to have the car keep driving on in the real world while the virtual car either stops dead, spins or goes through unaffected. Immersion instantly broken. Suddenly you no longer experience fear or adrenaline because you have taken a cognitive cue that you can’t be harmed by what you expect would.

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