Geely-owned Volvo Cars and Varjo, a Finnish maker of high-end augmented-reality headsets, have created a mixed-reality approach to evaluating prototypes, designs and active safety technologies.

Volvo says the collaboration will be further strengthened by the Volvo Cars Tech Fund’s decision to invest in Varjo. The Tech Fund is Volvo’s venture capital fund, which invests in high-potential technology start-ups.

Volvo Cars says the innovation has made it possible for the first time to drive a real car while wearing a mixed-reality headset, seamlessly adding virtual elements or complete features that seem real to both the driver and the car’s sensors, for development purposes. Until now, no other car maker has been able to do this, Volvo claims.

The Varjo XR-1 headset provides photorealistic mixed or virtual reality at a high-definition resolution better than anything currently available, it is claimed. The company adds that the XR-1 can radically reduce development timeframes by creating the new ability to evaluate features and designs almost immediately.

Compared with its predecessor, the XR-1 adds high-definition cameras to the headset and enables mixed-reality. This allows Volvo Cars’ designers and engineers to ‘drive’ future cars and evaluate all features in a simulation environment many years before they exist, enabling the company to develop the safest cars with the most refined user experience possible.

“With this mixed-reality approach, we can start evaluating designs and technologies while they are literally still on the drawing board,” said Henrik Green, Chief Technology Officer at Volvo Cars. “Instead of the usual static way of evaluating new products and ideas, we can test concepts on the road immediately. This approach offers considerable potential cost savings by identifiying priorities and clearing bottlenecks much earlier in the design and development process.”

The XR-1 also allows Volvo Cars’ engineers to develop and evaluate active safety solutions much easier. Safety experts are able to drive real cars while wearing the XR-1 headset at Volvo’s research facilities in Sweden, testing virtual active safety systems imposed via augmented reality on the real-life environment.

Also, highly accurate eye-tracking technology embedded inside the XR-1 makes it easy to assess how drivers use a new functionality and whether they are distracted in any way. This technology-based approach to measuring distraction levels ensures that Volvo Cars can develop new features without causing additional distraction, Volvo says.

“From the very beginning, our vision has been to create a product that can seamlessly merge the real and the virtual together,” said Niko Eiden, Founder and CEO of Varjo. “The incredibly advanced ways in which Volvo Cars uses the XR-1 show that Varjo’s technology enables things that have been previously impossible. Together with Volvo we have started a new era in professional mixed reality.”

“Varjo is a clear leader in its field,” says Zaki Fasihuddin, CEO of the Volvo Cars Tech Fund. “The company’s technology promises a lot for the future, but also offers clear applications already today for Volvo Cars. Varjo is a textbook example of the type of companies we seek to invest in.”