The VR-Drive-in™ is a virtual reality app that allows viewers to watch a movie from a headset as if they were in a drive-in movie theater.

The VR-Drive-in™ began in early 1990’s as a series of paintings. In 1993, I began creating a 3D model of the Mountain View, California’s corner of El Camino and Grant Road. Using a cheap Windows 3D program and aerial photos from the Mountain View historical museum, a drive-in theater, gas station and drive-in restaurant were re-created as they looked in 1957.

Working at CGSD Corporation, a Mountain View company who specialized in virtual reality, the database was further enhanced. By the late 1990’s, graphics cards had not yet matured on the PC platform, so it was fed through a Silicon Graphics Onyx Reality Engine, using MultiGen Creator to author the file. At this point, we had some low polygon vehicles, small textures and simple geometry for the structures in the scene.

As the 3D application became more sophisticated, I began adding more detail. The full interior of the restaurant was created from reference photos. More and better 50’s cars were added in. Buildings with richer detail lined the El Camino Real and Grant road. The drive-in snack bar’s simple box was replaced with wood-slats, doors and lights. Cylindrical stumps for the speaker boxes were replaced with realistic sets. Tree billboards were replaced with full leaf-and-trunk geometry. And moreover, everything was shaded with soft shadows. All of this was done to get the feel of what it actually looked like in the fifties.

In the late 1990’s, I created a 3D database of Berkeley, California, for CGSD’s driving simulator. One of the versions was designed for a Sony LDI 100B VR headset, with a “whopping” 800x600 resolution. At the 1999 Los Angeles SIGGRAPGH Con, even poor head-tracking and a pixilated image didn’t discourage hundreds of attendees from flocking to our booth. But this cool technology just wasn’t ready yet for prime-time.

In 2012, the Oculus Kickstarter campaign began to make the news. They finally solved the lagging tracking that made many sick. By 2015, all the techies wanted to get their hands on one, but it was months away from being shipped. I purchased a Samsung Gear VR and put the drive-in database into the unit.

In September, 2015, John Lovins (my partner) and I rented a booth at the Salt Lake City Comic Con. We brought in a crew of seven volunteers. This massive show broke its previous record with 127,000 attendees. One of only several VR demos at the Salt Palace, the VR Drive-in™ received an enormous response.

The ultimate goal of the VR Drive™ is to create an experience where viewers can bring in their social networking “friends” into their vehicles or environment. This could include the snack bar, restaurant or even the street corner. A selection of custom cars and attire would be available. You could either enjoy the movie in the back of the theater in your rod or just pull up to the screen in a lounge chair.

For more information, please contact me, Mike Carroll, at or 408-888-0484.


CGSD DS 100 Virtual Reality Driving Simulator, circa 1998. I created several blocks of Berkeley for the demonstration.
SIGGRAPH 1999 in Los Angeles, conference attendees flocked to see virtual reality and drive the Berkeley simulator. This included the VP of General Motors!
With the help of seven volunteers at the 2015 Salt Lake Comic Con, we managed to recapture the success of our 1999 SIGGRAPH show. People were hungry for the VR Drive-in™!


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