It was cool when VW let us “drive” the Scirocco on our iPhones. It was cooler when Skoda had us cutting out our own paper steering wheels and aiming them at a webcam. But driving a real-life, in-the-flesh, on the road brand new Mitsubishi SUV using only the arrow keys on your computer?
Awesome, if we could only get it to work.
On Monday, Mitsubishi debuted the Outlander Sport Live Drive, a unique test drive where anyone stuck at work, sitting in an airport or lying in bed can pilot a car on a test course in LA. The new SUV is hooked up to a remote control system that steers, stops and accelerates the vehicle in forward and reverse based on arrow key inputs given by drivers sitting at their computer. A series of cameras give the virtual driver a bird’s eye view in addition to a look out the front, side and rear windows.
Sure it’s a gimmick, but it’s a pretty cool one. Just tapping arrow keys, we might as well be editing a really big spreadsheet. But there’s a flippin’ car on the other end of those arrow keys.
Problem is, we couldn’t connect no matter how hard we tried. We kept getting an error that said we “appear to be behind a firewall that prevents you from connecting the vehicle,” no matter which connection or computer we used.
We’ll keep trying, but if you can do any better, please let us know as we’d love to try out a test drive.
So, we settled for watching Eddie from Ohio on the spectator cam. He didn’t have any better luck than we did, as the car stayed still for more than ten minutes. That’s par for the course in LA, but this time there didn’t appear to be any traffic. Shortly thereafter, an error message came up. “We’re checking something on the car. We’ll be back up soon.”
Among the tech they’d check would be servo motors and real-time GPS mapping. It was all put together by ad agencies 180 LA and Schematic, production company B-Reel, web designer Simon Cave and robotics expert Dr. James Brighton of Cranfield University. You might remember Brighton from the life-size remote control Hummer H3 he built a few years back.
Though we never got any real time behind the arrow keys, playing around with the practice course gave us a feel for the virtual test drive. You pilot the Outlander around a course doing your best to drive over markings that represent the vehicle’s features, such as its stereo system or gas mileage. For each feature you drive over, you get points. Of course we tried to drive the car off the track. No dice: the car stops and the jerk behind the wheel loses their turn to drive.
Finally, the car was back online. We watched five drivers and not a single one tried to drive over any of the features. One kept accelerating, stopping, then putting the car in reverse (ouch). Another just accelerated hard, cutting left and right and apparently trying to test the car’s rollover protection. Finally, Jean from Massachusetts followed the rules — and showed us just how many skid marks had been left on the track by the hoons who went before.
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