Warner Bros. and Intel unveil a Batmobile-like autonomous vehicle at CES featuring immersive entertainment and AR safety features.

If – as seems increasingly likely – we’re moving towards a near future that will include autonomous vehicles, what are all those drivers going to be doing with the spare time they no longer spend paying attention to the road?

That’s certainly a question that entertainment providers such as Warner Bros. are eager to answer. Time is money, after all, and idle people spend more and need to be kept entertained, so that’s a market of around $200 billion that could potentially rise from consumers accessing in-vehicle applications and content.

Intel also estimates that the so-called “passenger economy” triggered by automation will eventually free more than 250 million hours of commuting time per year in the world’s most congested cities alone.

So at CES 2019 the two companies teamed up to give punters a glimpse of what the future could look like with the Intel Warner Bros. autonomous vehicle – a retrofitted 2019 BMW X5 – which was equipped with a large-screen TV, projectors, mobile devices, sensory and haptic feedback, and immersive audio.

According to Marcie Miller, Intel’s Automotive Strategic Marketing Manager, the concept car delivers on a commitment the two companies made at the LA Auto Show in 2017 to explore the potential for next-generation entertainment in future autonomous vehicles. It also shows how autonomous cars will become a new kind of space and demonstrates the exciting potential for immersive entertainment in an autonomous driving world.

Passengers were taken on a virtual ride to Batman’s Gotham City through a virtual ride and 270-degree entertainment. Upon entering the vehicle, guests experienced in-cabin entertainment while becoming familiar with safety measures in place through five “chapters” beginning with a welcome message from Alfred (who else?) as you start seeing Gotham moving by on the side windows of the vehicle.

In the following chapter the passengers are treated to a comic book reader presented and narrated across the cabin as Batman and Killer Croc interact around them before Alfred politely informs the vehicle occupants of a road closure ahead. The point of the demonstration is that people can easily be kept informed about their journey even if their eyes and ears are off the road.

Responsibility-Sensitive Safety (RSS) is Intel’s framework for helping autonomous vehicles operate safely, and during the experience a dedicated screen in the cabin illustrates how a 360-degree safety-monitoring zone operates around a vehicle.

Chapter 4 plugs into the entertainment side, which of course is key for Warner Bros. by displaying an immersive trailer of DC’s Aquaman, specially adapted for the in-car 270-degree experience. You can, the experience informs you, also look up the nearest theaters showing the movie and buy your tickets before ever leaving the car.

Autonomous vehicles will actually need to tell us when we have arrived at our destination and when it’s safe to actually get out of the car, so the ride concludes with Alfred telling us just that.

Both companies believe consumer trust is critical for advancing autonomous vehicles, and in order to foster that trust, people need to feel both a sense of control and safety. It also helps if you’re happy and distracted during your journey, however, so so the mix of reassurance and entertainment provided in this experience seems to cover both those bases. Besides, the Batmobile was, to me, the original smart car, so the tie-in makes delightful sense.

Following CES, further research and development will be conducted on the vehicle in Burbank, California for a series of test drives that will gather real-world feedback from passengers through this year on the Warner Bros. Studio lot, so it might be a little while yet before you actually get to do your daily commute in one of these…