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Honda’s HoloLens demo was the first time I’ve found AR to be really useful

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Honda is offering a simple augmented reality demo at the Detroit Auto Show using Microsoft’s HoloLens. It involves strapping on one of the headsets, walking around, and getting into the car, which takes between five to 10 minutes total. And it’s probably the most useful augmented reality demo I’ve had yet.

The demo is really just a fancy new way to show off the specs and features of one of Honda’s new cars. HoloLens isn’t exactly comfortable. I also didn’t have my contacts in, which meant I had to squint through the entire experience.

But I was taken aback by how accurately the headset placed the floating AR elements in and around the car. Even when I got into the car, the headset made it look like there were colorful lines and arrows hovering precisely over and around notable features like the infotainment system or the heads-up display. Sitting in the driver’s seat and looking forward, I saw a Tron-style animation through the windshield that made it look and feel like I was driving the car down the road.

None of this was particularly immersive or realistic, like a full virtual reality experience. And the HoloLens’ limited field of view made it easy to lose sight of some of the markers and arrows that are supposed to direct you around the car. But it was still a fun way to learn about an otherwise relatively boring car. It’s the kind of experience that I could see popping up at dealerships and car shows around the country, especially when headset tech slims down a bit.

Of course, at that point, it’ll be up to the car companies (and the firms they contract to design these experiences) to justify using augmented reality tech like this. I found the demo useful because I didn’t have a Honda rep walking me through the features being called out. But if I did have one by my side, would I really need the AR elements? Maybe a combination of a human representative and AR tech would be more educational, or maybe it would just be overwhelming. Either way, the demo in Detroit felt like proof that we’re about to start answering some of these questions. And if you’re stopping by the auto show, it’s worth checking out for yourself.