Magic Bus: NVIDIA Holodeck Brings Iconic VW Microbuses of the Past — and Future — to the Floor of CES

by Brian Caulfield

I just took part in the trippiest experience at CES this week. It doesn’t involve psychedelics, though it does involve a journey to the 1960s, and forward to the 2020s. I can’t say the trip was long, but it was just the right kind of strange.

I was among the hundreds of people who lined up to step into NVIDIA’s booth here in Las Vegas, and strap on an HTC head-mounted display to stand in front of a virtual reproduction of a 1960s era Volkswagen Type 2 microbus.

While the iconic bus — beloved by hippies, surfers and anyone who needed to move a lot of people — may have a long history, the demonstration of the NVIDIA Holodeck collaboration platform was a technology experience like nothing that’s been seen before.

CES attendees lined up in front of a 1967 VW Type 2 microbus for an opportunity to try our Holodeck demo.

With a flick, I tossed the bus into the air. I peeled it open like an orange to peer inside at its mechanical underpinnings. Just by pointing my finger, I gave it a wild paint scheme that would please even the most radical surfer dude.

Then, in a whir of sound, a great green square appeared in front of me, only to dissolve in a cascade of smaller green boxes to reveal a shape both familiar and futuristic. Suddenly I was looking at the AI-infused VW I.D. Buzz, slated to hit the market in 2022.

I could do much more than just peer at the cheery yellow electric minibus with the smiley face. I looked inside at its mechanical underpinnings with a colleague who fluidly plucked out the vehicle’s lock mechanism from inside the door and expanded it to enormous size in front of us both.

In moments, I was talking about the inner workings of a vehicle with Frederick, a colleague who was also in the Holodeck with me, but physically in a remote location. We were able to examine all the inner workings of the vehicle.

And that’s just what Holodeck — and a suite of NVIDIA technologies including VRWorks, DesignWorks and GameWorks — is meant to do. Holodeck is a VR lab that lets far-flung teams come together in a realistic virtual environment to interact with photorealistic models of their designs.

Or, in this case, to serve as a time machine.

The Volkswagen I.D. Buzz and VW CEO Herbert Diess were among the highlights of our press event Sunday night.

The Volkswagen I.D. Buzz — showcased at NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang’s press event Sunday — isn’t slated to debut until 2022. But Holodeck let us bring the design — the centerpiece of a discussion between Huang and Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess on how NVIDIA will partner with the world’s largest automaker to infuse AI in its next-generation vehicles — to the show floor now.

The demo was one of a number of exhibits that had hundreds of CES attendees gawking — and whipping out their smartphones — as they milled about our green-and-black booth.

Among them, a squat, powerful-looking autonomous racecar capable of reaching speeds of 300 kilometers per hour equipped with four electric motors, 15 sensors and controlled by our NVIDIA DRIVE autonomous vehicle platform.

This green-and-black autonomous racecar had CES attendees gawking.

It’s an automotive world that’s radically different than the one Mark Winder wrenched his way through more than 40 years ago. The bearded, affable 68-year-old software engineer still owns and maintains a dove blue 1973 VW microbus.

While the electronics in modern vehicles today are much more complex, Wender couldn’t help recalling — as he watched attendees exploring a virtual version of his beloved microbus — one of his favorite books, “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive; A Manual of Step-By-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot.”

One of the book’s most memorable pages shows a hobbyist dreaming of an exploded 3D model of his VW. Today, he says he saw that illustration brought to life, and something more.

With Holodeck, we won’t just be seeing our most complex projects brought before us as if in a dream. We’ll all be dreaming of them together.