Future of the Business World: A Virtual Reality for Nervous New Drivers

by Diana Drake

Any road warrior will tell you — it’s a jungle out there! The congested highways of our lives make it all the more critical to feel confident when you get behind the wheel and head toward the traffic. While many 16-year-olds are excited by the prospect of driving and the freedom it affords, getting your driver’s permit and license can also be daunting — for both teens and parents. Such was Sara Beniwal’s reality when her 16th birthday came around in January 2020. She and a group of entrepreneurially minded friends soon bonded over their driver’s license angst and turned to innovation, building VirtuRoad, a virtual reality driving simulator designed for nervous new drivers to practice driving in real-life scenarios. 

The Wharton Global Youth Program recently caught up with Sara, a high school senior in California who also studied in our online Business Leadership Academy this summer, to talk about her VirtuRoad business journey. Click on the arrow at the top of this transcript to listen to the podcast.

Wharton Global Youth Program: Hello and welcome to Future of the Business World! I’m Diana Drake, managing editor of the Wharton Global Youth Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Each month we interview teen entrepreneurs from around the world, with stories of their challenges, successes and unexpected detours. Together, we explore the innovation process and learn what it means to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit…all before the age of 20.

Today’s guest is here to talk about something totally relatable – being a new driver.

Back in January 2020 — which for many of us feels like a lifetime ago — Sara Beniwal was freaking out. She had just turned 16 and didn’t yet have her driver’s license even though she was eligible. Around the same time, she joined an entrepreneurship program and met up with a group of other teens who bonded over their struggles with learning how to drive and getting their licenses. Maybe they could somehow use innovation to address this new-driver anxiety?

They pooled their collective entrepreneurial energy and came up with VirtuRoad, a VR driving simulator designed for nervous new drivers to practice driving in real-life scenarios.

Sara, it’s great to speak with you. Welcome to Future of the Business World!

Sara: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.

Wharton Global Youth: Take me back to January 2020. Why were you panicking over not having your license? What were you feeling that you think other drivers-in-training also feel?

Sara: As you mentioned, my 16th birthday was in January of last year. It’s common for teens to get their license when they turn 16 so they can drive to school or places they want to go freely. I was really behind and I only had my permit. Both me and my parents were really afraid of me holding the steering wheel. Anytime we would practice it would end up with me nearly hitting the trash cans or using the right indicator to turn left. So, I felt like driving, which is a really common practice, would be something I could never do well. To answer your second question, I feel a lot of drivers-in-training feel this immense sense of responsibility when they sit in the driver’s seat. They know that they’re in real life and if anything goes wrong they will face real consequences that could be fatal. Knowing that you’re responsible for the lives of others could be really daunting for new drivers.

Wharton Global Youth: Once you hooked up with your team of entrepreneurs, you did some market research. What did you learn?

Sara: Market research taught me a lot about how to determine key customers. We did our research through two mediums: the first one was through looking at existing data and research about new drivers. We found some shocking numbers about new drivers. According to some research we discovered, 40% of teenagers are scared to drive, 25% of young adults are also scared to drive and 58% of parents are scared of their teen driving. That really gave us a lot of context about how teen drivers and their parents are stressed out about this process.

The second way we learned about our market was through customer validation. We reached out to community members for their opinions about our product and its need and we interviewed over 80 people to determine that VirtuRoad had potential to help new drivers and their parents.

Wharton Global Youth: I’d be remiss to not ask you about the team of students you met in your entrepreneurship course. Who is on your team?

Sara Beniwal is part of an all-woman start-up team.

Sara: We’re a team of four members right now and we’re all female entrepreneurs. It’s exciting to work together since we’re around the same age and we all connect to our product really well.

Wharton Global Youth: Describe VirtuRoad. What is this technology all about? Take us through a simulated VirtuRoad experience. Is it like a video game?

Sara: VirtuRoad is a VR driving simulator designed for nervous new drivers to practice driving in real-life scenarios, while in the comfort of their own home without any risks. We have a real-world terrain, driving scenarios and a testing portion for the user to learn effectively without any extra equipment. We chose to leverage virtual reality (VR) because it offers a 3D realistic experience that is essential for our product to help people learn how to drive. VR allows us to bring the experience of sitting in a real car right to your home. VirtuRoad has two apps: a mobile app and a VR app. The mobile app tracks account information such as how you’re doing in the simulations, and there’s also a testing portion where you can answer questions from our driver’s handbook. Our product also provides all the equipment needed to use the simulator. The user puts on the headset and can then use a VR app to enter either free drive, which is where there are simulated roads you can practice on, or driving scenarios where you can practice skills such as four-way stops or parallel parking with voice instruction. We’ve created these scenarios so the driver can receive feedback on how they performed a specific skill.

Wharton Global Youth: Why virtual reality? Is this a particular area of interest for you? Had you studied it before?

Sara: Virtual reality was really important to us because you want to see what’s happening to your right in the right-hand mirror, you want to look what’s happening behind you in the back mirror. Just sitting there and looking at a screen wasn’t effective enough to get this realistic experience that you would need to get actual, effective driving skills from this product. We figured why not leverage this technology, which has really been developing a lot over the past few years, and see where we can go with it and try to develop a realistic terrain so that when you’re learning how to drive, you don’t feel like you’re not on the road. You are basically on the road, but in a safer location.

Wharton Global Youth: When did you launch the apps and how many users do you have? Tell us about the community you’ve built around VirtuRoad?

Sara: We’ve finished our mobile app at the beginning of the year, but the mobile app is only one part of our entire product, so we haven’t released it to the public. Right now, it’s just my team and I working with developers to do quality-assurance testing. In the future, we do hope to reach out to our supporters. A lot of people have been promoting our product along the way through social media and we’ve also been using YouTube to reach out to people. We’ve been focused on getting customers who would be interested in our product, but we haven’t really been able to let any of our customers test out VirtuRoad.

“We’ve been told by investors that we had a good idea, but they didn’t feel comfortable funding a startup raised by teens…If I wanted to be respected as an entrepreneur, I had to step up and show that I was serious about what I was doing.”— Sara Beniwal, Co-founder, VirtuRoad

Wharton Global Youth: How do you make sure you’re creating features that appeal to the end user?

Sara: Appeal to the end user is definitely something we talked a lot about. One way that we did that was through storyboarding. We were able to figure out how to create a product that would have a better UI (user interface) by reaching out to a couple of our friends to test out our product and tell us what they thought of it. For the most part, it’s been consulting with developers who have had experience in the past. As high schoolers, there’s only so much we can do about user experience. We’ve definitely considered the simplicity of our app and how easy it would be for our users to use it.

Wharton Global Youth: I was excited to speak to you today about virtual reality, and also another topic. I hear often that one of the biggest challenges of teen entrepreneurship is people not taking you seriously. Has that also been a challenge for you?

Sara: There have definitely been a lot of times when my age would stop me from being taken seriously. We’ve been told by investors that we had a good idea, but they didn’t feel comfortable funding a startup raised by teens. These words helped me to become stronger in real life. If I wanted to be respected as an entrepreneur, I had to step up and show that I was serious about what I was doing. And so, there were competitions where I would make the judges completely unaware that I was under 18. I would quickly spit out details about gross margins or five-year projections or our driving school partnership model. This constant situation of being underestimated has really helped me grow stronger, not only as an entrepreneur but as a person. If you know what you’re doing and you know it well, no one can take that away from you.

Wharton Global Youth: Driving school partnership model? What is that?

Sara: Our product isn’t just B-to-C or from us to a customer directly. We’re considering working with driving schools because we feel driving schools will give us this opportunity to market out to people in a different way. We often emphasize the fact that VirtuRoad is not an alternative to driving schools or a driving instructor, it’s really a supplement. We know you can’t replace in-person driving. We do want to help alleviate some of the stress that comes with learning how to drive. So, we wanted to work with driving schools and create a revenue-share model where we would give our products to driving schools for free and in return we would give them some revenue for however many headsets they sold or rented out. That way we could really develop relationships with a big, established industry.

Wharton Global Youth: Have you had success building those partnerships?

Sara: Building partnerships with driving schools has been something we’ve had to struggle with. Driving schools aren’t just a franchise or an industry, it’s a lot of local driving schools run by a single person. We’ve had to do a lot of calls where we reach out to driving schools and see if they would be interested in our product. We’ve got a lot of positive feedback and responses from driving schools, so that’s really made us excited that we have potential there. We worry how we are going to scale that because driving schools are pretty local-based. Scaling is the one thing we’re concerned about, but we think that driving schools open up a lot of opportunity to market ourselves.

Wharton Global Youth: So, I hear these terms like scaling. You’re throwing a lot of business terms at me. You spent some time with Wharton Global Youth this summer studying virtually in our Business Leadership Academy. Have you been able to apply anything from that experience to your VirtuRoad development?

Sara: I was super excited to be part of the Business Leadership Academy this summer, and I learned a lot about not just leadership, but teamwork, communication and a lot of essential skills that you need whenever you’re working in a group. And I was able to do this with a bunch of people across the globe, which was super amazing. One thing I’ve been able to apply to VirtuRoad is the importance of delegation. In one of our activities at the Business Leadership Academy, we did this simulation called the Saturn Parable. Without giving anything away to someone who might do it in the future, there were so many tasks we had to do. Our group focused on delegating tasks. We would pull up a GoogleDoc and list each item and who would finish them so we would get everything done on time. That strategy helped us become one of the top teams at the end of the simulation. In VirtuRoad, I’ve applied this by focusing on delegation and making sure we know exactly who is doing what so we can successfully meet deadlines or competitions.

Wharton Global Youth: What ultimately do you see for this product that is still very much in development?

Sara: Once we finish VirtuRoad, our goal is to do a geographic expansion. So we start small in California and San Diego, which is where we’re located, and then hopefully we want to go nationwide in a couple of years if we can. Aside from that, we don’t think VirtuRoad is limited just to cars. We’re venturing into considering motorcycles or other types of transportation that might require people to learn how to drive.

Wharton Global Youth: Where are you today in your own new-driver journey? Do you have a license? A car? Have you gotten rid of those jitters?

Sara: This is going to sound ironic, but I’ve been so busy with VirtuRoad that I still haven’t gotten my license. I started driving behind the wheel finally. I think working with VirtuRoad inspired me to go in the car finally. I’m considering being one of VirtuRoad’s first customers, so unfortunately, I don’t have my license yet. I think that this product pushed me out of my comfort zone and I feel more comfortable sitting in a car and learning how to drive.

Wharton Global Youth: I hear about different technologies targeting teen drivers, like GPS tracking. What intel have you learned about new drivers that you think the business world should know as they innovate in this space?

Sara: I would say that new drivers are a lot more tech-savvy. They are focused on efficiency and quality of the product, which we had to incorporate a lot into our own product. Making the product just fun and exciting, something you would want to use on a daily basis, is a great way to catch their attention. I’m also speaking as someone who fits the demographic of a new driver, so if I were a new driver, I would definitely want something with these characteristics. Another thing we talked a lot about was affordability. A lot of users mentioned that they wanted an affordable product that they didn’t feel would press a burden on their finances. A lot of the products on the market right now are on the pricier side. So we focused on making VirtuRoad inexpensive for the everyday driver.

Wharton Global Youth: How much does it cost?

Sara: Our product costs $150 a month. It’s a subscription basis, so you don’t have to buy our product directly, you can rent it out. This is actually a really good deal because our product can be used any time in the comfort of your own home. You can spend as many hours as you want in that month period to test out our product and practice how to drive from home.

Wharton Global Youth: Are you a senior in high school right now?

Sara: Yes, I am a senior in high school.

Wharton Global Youth: I feel often these entrepreneurial projects go by the wayside because you get busy with life after high school. Will that happen, do you think?

Sara: We’ve had this discussion quite a bit. We have come to consensus that we do want to continue developing our product in college. It may not be as fast-paced as it is now, but even now we are all busy with school and we’re still able to manage working on the business and making progress. I would say we would love to continue our product. We’ve also considered hiring and recruiting other teen entrepreneurs who want to touch their toes in the water of entrepreneurship. We’ve gotten a lot of interest from [people] who want to help us out. I think that’s where the future of VirtuRoad is.

Wharton Global Youth: Is technology in your future? Has this helped to inform your path forward?

Sara: I think technology is definitely in my future. I’m a very STEM-oriented person and I think we can really leverage technology in a lot of meaningful ways in the future. I think VirtuRoad is just one example of that. There are a lot of different ideas created out of new tech. I’m really interested lately in blockchain. That’s definitely something I would want to consider and see if we can implement that in different industries. Blockchain isn’t specifically for crypto anymore. It’s also expanding to the insurance industry and voting. Blockchain is another form of technology that I would want to investigate further.

Wharton Global Youth: One question that I like to ask everyone on Future of the Business World is if you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

Sara: I would like to change the stigma that surrounds teen entrepreneurship. When I started learning about business, I thought that I could never have a startup at this age. There are actually so many different ways to begin a company now thanks to technology. Especially during the pandemic, the fact that everyone was online helped put them on an even playing ground because a lot of work that we did was completely digital. This shows that technology is helping teens like us get more opportunities in creating our own startups. If you have a good idea, you can go out there and make it a reality regardless of your age.

Wharton Global Youth: Let’s wrap up with our lightning round. Please try to answer these questions as quickly as you can.

What is a technology, other than VirtuRoad, that you just can’t live without?

Sara: Definitely cars.

Wharton Global Youth: If you would win a senior superlative, what would it be?

Sara: Most likely to sleep through an earthquake. I’ve been told I sleep a lot.

Wharton Global Youth: What book, video or podcast are you bingeing on these days?

Sara: When I get time, I’ve been reading a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear. I’m hoping that I can use some habits and fix my sleeping pattern.

Wharton Global Youth: A skill you have that you feel will serve you best as a future business leader?

Sara: I think when you hear the term leader it has to be about speaking and projecting. Another important skill is just being able to listen.

Wharton Global Youth: If you could invite one business person to lunch, who would it be?

Sara: I would probably invite Facebook CTO Andrew Bosworth, because I want to discuss making a deal about oculus VR headsets for VirtuRoad.

Wharton Global Youth: Sara, thanks so much for joining us on Future of the Business World. It’s been great talking to you!

Conversation Starters

What did Sara Beniwal learn through market research? Do you agree with some of the team’s data about new drivers?

Would you use VirtuRoad to become more confident behind the wheel? Why or why not?

How do you think VirtuRoad might have greater success with its driving school partnership model?

9 comments on “Future of the Business World: A Virtual Reality for Nervous New Drivers

  1. “The way to get started is to quit talking and start doing.” This quote from Walt Disney was the first thought I had after listening to your story in the podcast, Sara. As a teenager myself, starting a business seems like something completely foreign and daunting. Traditionally, we think of an entrepreneur as someone who is adult-like and possesses wisdom; however, the truth is all you need to be an entrepreneur is a passion for your work and a hunger for success.

    Aside from how inspirational your story was for aspiring teen entrepreneurs, I wanted to highlight the work you are doing for those who might not fully understand its future significance. Truly, VR has opened an entirely new three-dimensional world filled with opportunities for endless applications. Using VR as a driving simulation tool seems not only ingenious as an abstract idea, but also very effective, practically speaking, at creating a safer environment. This was one of the major reasons why I resonated with your work, as I am researching a similar topic. I’m working with a mentor who focuses on the applications of VR/AR in manufacturing. From using XR (AR and VR) in testing industrial robots to training manufacturing engineers hoping to enter the workforce, his research resembles the work you are doing. I’ve been able to witness firsthand the use of XR to test and simulate conditions for industrial robots in a safe environment. We use Oculus Quest 2 headsets to map out movement of industrial robots in a safe simulation before performing the actual tasks themselves. This allows the utmost precision and consistency when working with industrial robots meant for manufacturing. My experience ties back to how we can use VR technology to benefit the world, either by teaching people how to drive or by testing robots.

    The main issue that VirtuRoad tries to overcome is a beginner’s fear of driving. The implementation of VR as a device to overcome fear is brilliant. VR transports a user into a world that is stress-ridden but safe, allowing one to overcome some of their deepest phobias without encountering real danger. The virtual world is incredibly immersive and offers a simulation of the real world in terms of the visuals, sounds, and experience without the danger or risk of death. As you said “You are basically on the road, but in a safer location.” One of the major applications of VR at combating phobias is in fighting a fear of heights. In this case, people are placed at the top of a skyscraper or another high location. By knowing that they can’t die in a virtual world, they are able to overcome their fear of heights. Speaking as a person who has a fear of heights, I know I would greatly benefit from a product like that.

    These types of products are directly linked to the effects of virtual reality on our emotions. Emotions derive from personal experiences and interactions with other people. These emotions shape who we fundamentally are as humans. I would like to circle back to how bumping into trash cans and forgetting directions resulted in stress and a lack of confidence in your driving abilities. These past experiences you had when driving led you to create a bad impression and have an association of fear with driving. Luckily, in a virtual world there is no danger of making mistakes.

    Funnily enough, just like you, I never thought I would drive. Partially because I live in New York City, where driving is dangerous and complicated, and the feeling of overwhelming responsibilities, I felt no desire to own or drive a car. However, your story helped me realize that I can easily learn to drive from the comfort of my home. Hopefully, in the near future I can work towards a driver’s license and maybe even build up the courage to drive my own car.

    • When I saw your comment Daniel, I knew I could relate to your mentorship experience involving VR and AR. I’ve been learning a lot in a summer program about why we might use VR/AR and your highlights really reminded me of the discussions of accessibility in regards to using these technologies. VR/AR may seem like a realm that’s far away and unnecessarily applicable at times, but I think VirtuRoads is something that showcases the practicality of applying the use of VR. VirtuRoads is a truly immersive experience that acts as a no-risk option to get used to the sensations of driving.

      Stemming from Sara’s own desire to help herself, she was able to form a new application of her strength to try to help people. And the need for this technology is apparent with motor vehicle accidents being the 1st or 2nd leading causes of death. With the widespread fear of driving being so easily justified, the fear of driving becomes a phenomenon. VirtuRoad’s accessibility allows for the usability and the interactivity of the technology to shine. It calls people to take action on overcoming their driving anxieties.

      Your use of Walt Disney’s quote “The way to get started is to quit talking and start doing” as a representative of Sara’s step into the entrepreneurial side of VirtuRoads, is similar to VirtuRoad’s ‘call to action’. Through the advancements in technology and the spread of surveys on social media, I find it much more accurate to say that the conversational aspect is just as relevant as the working process. Disney’s experience with technology is amazing but was definitely in a time when aspects such as communication were strictly distinct. Social media wasn’t even a thing yet! However, the distinction between the actions and technology in the world has become so much more unclear. Especially after the pandemic, communication has become so much more accessible with our level of technology. Getting feedback and ideas online has become a norm and work has definitely evolved to be an effective emergence of the two.

      The way so many fields have intertwined communication and action has created such a distinction from Disney’s time. Networking can be thought of as the bridge of so much in the world. In fact, the act of networking can establish connections to expand future opportunities. It’s easy to think of networking as a physical event. However, this no longer needs to be the case with so many more options to explore. Communication has become so ingrained in this manner that even the lack of communication can feel like inaction. Even the interactivity within VirtuRoads is a valuable experience. So many people already learn how to drive with their loved ones, but to have additional support and insight from the connected app could really reaffirm the strength and confidence to drive. It’s no wonder communication is cited to be the key to any relationship. It feeds ideas such as VirtuRoad and builds accessibility. In this manner, it acts as a key to engagement. Going back to your point Daniel, VirtuRoads uses interactivity to masterfully engage the emotion of fear. It makes me wonder, what can embracing action and communication do for the future of innovation? Will there be more inspirational campaigns and businesses like VirtuRoads?

  2. My parents have cycled through enough cars to start a rivalry with a car dealership. A very, very small local dealership, that’s for sure, but it’d be enough to warrant maybe a couple of threatening emails and, conversely, perhaps an inviting family of dancing inflatable balloons.

    Since I moved from my grandparents’ eleven years ago, car accidents in my family happened about as frequently as a birthday, only without the candles and cake. I can now almost envision the faint outlines of six ghostly cars parked in our garage today, each battered in their own unique ways: a few with crumpled headlights, another with its hood folded inwards, and others missing wheels, the empty rims poking through like bone on a wound. I used to have a Hot Wheels collection then, but at some point, the act of reenacting car crashes and making little accommodating explosion sounds sickened me. I imagined there were miniature people in those miniature cars, people who were clinging to their seatbelts and writing their wills in jagged letters (given the bumpy ride), counting the seconds till the impending collision between a towering monster truck and their slim sports car, people who were just like us on that day, on all of those days. We were going to swim practice, so how did we end up parked on the side of the road, caught in phone calls about insurance and so very little about ensuring our safety instead?

    It’s safe to say that for a while now, I haven’t had the biggest desire to get my license and join the rat race of I-10 and its 26 lanes of bustling, nonstop traffic. After all, they say to follow your ancestors, but my family is the perfect embodiment of the Asian stereotype of being bad drivers. Thankfully, I’ve managed to get by on my bike, pedaling my way to parks, movie theaters, and school for nearly all of my life. Of course, I’m sixteen now, bordering on seventeen, and even now, I’m still terrified about the prospect of getting behind the wheel with my life clutched in my very hands.

    While VirtuRoad would present an option for bringing me into the driving world that would be infinitely better than playing hours of Grand Theft Auto, it’s amazing to me that this driving simulation would also be strongly applicable to the creators behind this project, Sara and her team of other student entrepreneurs. As someone who is interested in possibly creating a startup but is lacking the initiative asides from joining a business club, I found the whole explanation of the process that Sara and her team went through more helpful than anything. They identified not just a problem that could be solved, but rather an issue that was directly affecting their lives: a fear of learning how to drive. This decision was followed by market research, determining whether or not VirtuRoad was a product that was needed among teens and other new drivers. It was only then that they began to work on their app and draw upon connections for promotional purposes. Above all, I thought that it was important that Sara acknowledged how VirtuRoad would perform as a supplement to hands-on driving; even though virtual reality engages our visual and auditory senses, essentially creating situations perfect for practice drives, the feeling of responsibility and real risk from physically holding the wheel cannot be replicated.

    Sara also mentioned that this would be a project they would continue even after high school. Outside of just providing experience with new skills to beginner drivers, I feel like VirtuRoad could expand its influence to help adults along with teenagers, specifically those who have developed “road trauma” after car accidents—39.2% of motor vehicle accident (MVA) survivors are left with PTSD according to the National Institute of Mental Health. I joked a lot about my own driving anxiety, but truthfully, it’s my mom’s hands that shake when she’s trying to pull out of a parking space with a black SUV parked too close. It’s the way that she pauses at a stop sign for a heartbeat longer than the average person would, the way she avoids crowded parking lots in favor of a more vacant parking space futher away from the entrances of a grocery store or restaurant.

    Though my mom and others like her certainly aren’t going to be the most familiar with this technology, VirtuRoad could present itself as a vital tool in helping them regain their confidence while driving in a safe, controlled setting.

    I, for one, definitely don’t want to add any more cars to my family’s “dealership,” nor would I want to do the same to anyone else. With how it could assist new and experienced drivers alike, VirtuRoad is the solution for safer roads in our non-virtual reality.

  3. Sara, I admire your team’s ambition to venture into entrepreneurship at such a young age. I think VirtuRoad is an excellent idea, and I’m excited to hear more about your project, especially since it is a product with GenZ as the target audience. With more than 1.3 billion cars on the road, it is easy to dismiss driving as an ordinary and simple task. However, the challenge and the great responsibility of getting behind the wheel can induce anxiety in new drivers and create a negative experience. A study by The Zebra, a Texas-based car insurance company, revealed that fear prevents 26% of unlicensed teen girls and 17% of teen boys from driving. Teenagers really have a lot to gain from VirtuRoad’s services! Right now, VirtuRoad only features a VR headset and a rudimentary setup that consists of a plain chair and a rudimentary steering wheel.

    When I read about VirtuRoad, I couldn’t help but think about the Boeing Full Flight Simulator systems that airlines use to train their pilots. This technological advancement has completely changed the aviation industry because of the numerous advantages it brings to the table. The technology allows pilots to practice emergencies without any risk. The simulators feature a complete set of realistic 100% scale controls, an enclosed cockpit, surround sound system, 180° visual system, and global scenery from 24,000 airports and cities. Pilots can takeoff virtually in even the harshest weather conditions to practice landing and takeoff, which are simulated through visual displays and motion devices that mimic physical disturbances (ex: turbulence or landing impact). Flight simulators also allow for more effective instructor communication, as pilots can absorb information and rectify their mistakes in real-time.

    If technology can simulate aerospace flight, why can’t it be adapted to cars? A similar approach through ‘exposure therapy’ can be taken by creating simulator systems replicating every aspect of the real world while driving. Exposure therapy works by allowing teens to confront their driving fears through repeated exposure in a safe and controlled environment. A full-scale model of the dashboard and car controls, which can be customized virtually to specific car models, will allow teens to acclimate to the driving experience by developing muscle memory for everyday tasks, checks, and maneuvers. A specially designed car seat that simulates bumps and turns makes the experience even more realistic. A surround sound system eliminates the novelty factor for new drivers and helps teen drivers become more accustomed to other stressful stimuli they may encounter. For example, a surround sound system can reproduce the loud engine noises of passing cars, trucks, roaring wind on highways, and the cacophony of traffic on a congested road. High-fidelity sounds, realistic graphics, and a car seat that mimics acceleration, braking, and turning, can fully capture the driving experience. The goal is to help teens unlearn negative associations, decrease their fear response, and create realistic beliefs/thoughts about the feared stimulus in a safe and controlled environment. When it’s time to drive in the real world, there will be no surprises.

    Similar to how a flight simulator allows for more effective training and learning, VirtuRoad can simultaneously offer teen drivers the chance to practice and learn through specific learning modules and programmed scenarios. Programmed scenarios can include parking, performing standard maneuvers, and even ones like de-escalating road rage or dealing with car accidents.

    This leads to my next point: VirtuRoad can even benefit people of all ages. Studies report that 66% of Americans experience driving anxiety when performing standard maneuvers. 26% of drivers are nervous performing merges onto highways; 19% of drivers are nervous performing backing up or reversing; 18% of drivers are nervous performing unprotected left turns. Furthermore, the most common causes of car accidents are tailgating, nighttime driving, road conditions, and weather. Weather alone resulted in over 1,258,978 car accidents between 2005-2014. VirtuRoad can be a valuable teaching resource to educate new and seasoned drivers on dangerous behaviors and conditions. The beauty of VR is that all imaginable scenarios and maneuvers can be programmed into the system: the simulation environment can feature night/day, snow, rain, fog, etc.

    Cities all across the world can benefit from the services of VirtuRoad. In the US alone, the total economic cost of car crashes in the US amounts to about $230.6 billion. Combine that with societal impact, and the figure balloons to $871 billion. A subscription-based system like VirtuRoad can be accessible to all drivers, ensuring safer roads and highways for everyone.

  4. VirtuRoad puts a creative spin on a traditional experience that each young person goes through, and I applaud Sara for launching such an imaginative and helpful product. This budding business venture caught my eye immediately as I was scrolling through the website, the phrase from the headline ”…Nervous New Driver” drew me in to listen to the podcast. Having just turned 16 myself and now being a fellow “nervous new driver”, the service offered by VirtuRoad definitely seemed appealing. Similar to Sara’s experience, I find the idea of taking on busy roads with my family in the car and not a lot of practice under my belt, daunting. The streets suddenly turn into a maze of hidden dangers that I’m too scared to navigate, but practice is still necessary. This is why after listening to her business proposal, I was looking into purchasing her product. However, I live in Canada, and VirtuRoad, which is located in the US, had expansion plans that were only targeted towards going “nationwide in a couple of years”. Though I cannot purchase her product at the moment, as a part of VirtuRoad’s target age group, I hope to share my insights in order to promote this imaginative and impactful business towards other new drivers across the US, who may share the same feelings as me when behind the wheel.

    One of the main obstacles that Sara identified regarding promoting and scaling VirtuRoad is the tedious process of contacting driving schools which are mostly small and local based to form collaborations. This is a key part of her plan to promote her product with a revenue-share model to students. Though it is true that most driving schools are locally based, there are some bigger companies outside of Sara’s home state that have a larger influence on the driving school industry. According to Bold Data, North Carolina Driving School inc. , Sses inc. , and Broussard Driving Academy LLC are the biggest driving schools in America by revenue. These companies have a bigger customer base than the schools that Sara has been reaching out to, and would therefore have a bigger influence when promoting VirtuRoad. If Sara’s product becomes popular amongst these “bigger” companies, then the independently run schools she has been contacting would follow the trend and reach out to her regarding her product. This way, it would not be necessary to constantly contact smaller schools, and making this strategy would be easier to scale.

    Moreover, in order for VirtuRoad to reach their goal of expanding nationwide, the testing feature on both the mobile and virtual apps should be adjusted to have different mock test versions for different states. Not all driving laws across the US are the same, and the app should reflect that. For example, according to GJEL Accident Attorneys, the state of Alaska no longer requires turn signals at roundabouts and Arizona bans minors from using a cellular device in the first 6 months of driving. Information like that is crucial for new drivers to know, as the safety of the driver is affected, and not being informed of new laws may result in illegal actions. Therefore, in order to provide the most helpful and accurate information, Virturoad should work towards creating different mock tests for different states. As well, this would be attractive to customers around the country, as the app is now better tailored for their specific needs. Customers in a different state will not be at a disadvantage when purchasing the product compared to a customer from VirtuRoad’s home state, as the app would be inclusive for all.

    As a young person who would have benefitted from the services of VirtuRoad, I thank Sara for such an innovative idea, and hope that with these additions to her business plan, this product can reach new drivers across America. Though she faced some difficulties regarding expansion and scaling, if VirtuRoad reached out to bigger driving schools across America, and was tailored to be more inclusive of other states, more young people can get the much needed driving practice without the risk.

  5. Sara, your team has done an amazing job at developing a platform that uses novel technology to help engage youth! As someone who is currently learning to drive, I can envision all of the ways in which VirtuRoad can supplement the new driver experience and provide learners with a safer and more comfortable means of practicing!

    I think that the choice of utilizing virtual reality for VirtuRoad is a great way of simulating realistic road conditions whilst allowing users to still customize their experience by selecting from specific scenarios. The target group, Gen Z, a cohort of digital natives, is closely entangled with virtual reality (VR). These technologies are integrated into our daily lives, therefore VirtuRoad will have fewer issues with users having difficulty adapting to the concept of VR, and will be able to appeal to a wide customer base. VR allows companies to create a myriad of scenarios, all brought to the comfort of their own home – VirtuRoad builds upon this, allowing learners to familiarize themselves with different driving scenarios through randomized practice, creating a safe environment to hone in their skills. However, one way I believe that you could enhance the user experience is by altering a single factor which significantly impacts the driving experience- weather.

    After looking through your website, I noticed that you didn’t specify whether or not drivers could select for weather scenarios, for example rain or snow, within the different driving scenarios provided. Differing weather conditions can significantly alter the way in which drivers need to react: when rain hits the pavement, tire traction decreases, causing increases in car crashes, and fog can decrease visibility. According to the US Department of Transportation, approximately 21% of crashes are weather-related. Therefore, providing drivers with a safe means of learning how to react to different weather conditions is crucial in creating safer roads on those rainy days. One way I believe you could improve upon the user experience is by adding a drop down menu on the side of the screen, allowing users to customize the road visibility in addition to the weather conditions. Users could be given the opportunity to select from weather conditions such as rain, snow and fog, and the simulated tires and user visibility would adjust accordingly to each selection. This addition will enhance the existing customizability of VirtuRoad, and will provide users with a more enhanced and realistic learning experience.

    The idea of combining virtual reality and driving is an amazing concept, and utilizes Gen Z’s existing interest and familiarity with VR and AR to create authentic experiences for users. This innovation is necessary for creating a safer and more experienced cohort of drivers, ultimately saving lives. Great work!

  6. One moment you are traveling through space, shooting at enemy ships, and the next you find yourself holding a golf club at a golf tournament. The magic of VR(virtual reality) is virtually endless, unlocking new thrilling experiences for users in ways that feel unbelievably real. A perfect example of such is Sara’s innovation: VirtuRoad. VirtuRoad is a VR driving simulator aimed to help nervous new drivers practice their driving skills. Not only does her innovation provide a safe and affordable way of learning, but it also offers a variety of scenarios that well mimics the scenery one would find on the road. Her personal connection to her innovation as a new driver is what fueled her dedication to VirtuRoad’s mission- an entrepreneurial quality that I deeply respect.

    As someone who often sits in the front passenger seat next to my mom or dad driving, I have been in and seen many (near-)accident situations. It is not baffling that such experienced drivers, like my parents and many others, can encounter these issues. After all, no one can predict what might happen in the next second on the road. Thus, I believe that Sara’s VirtuRoad is a great precautionary tool that should be targeted at all drivers, not just new ones.

    After I learned about Sara’s innovation, I was curious as to what exact scenarios her simulator offered, and was a little disappointed to see that it listed only simple ones such as parking and changing lanes. While these skills are no doubt critical to all drivers on the road, it would be even better if it provided new services that taught every driver to expect the unexpected, regardless of experience. For instance, an issue that has plagued many drivers is the presence of about 220 million flat tires per year. It would be extremely useful if VirtuRoad included a new scenario that requires players to learn how to properly respond to such an issue. The simulation would display the usual advice that it does on the screen while also assessing user response to a flat tire on the road and giving a numerical grade at the end. To achieve this both physically and virtually, I propose Sara and her team develop a new VR product to be incorporated into their system: a smart glove. The glove would contain sensors inside its fabric to communicate users’ hand movements to the simulation. This way, users can put on the glove as one physically would when about to fix their tires and have a “grasp” of the tire and tools in their virtual hands, providing the most accurate simulation possible. I am positive that this would relieve much of the driver anxiety that many Americans face daily and boost their confidence on the road.

    Speaking of a confidence booster, VirtuRoad could also target those who already know how to drive but recently got into a car accident. Driving again after an accident can seem daunting and dangerous given the roller coaster of emotions one feels during the accident, so it is critical to rebuild that confidence on the road again for those that need it. With a wide range of accessible statistics, Sara and her team can most definitely pinpoint the most common accidents affecting drivers and develop new simulations to counter these issues. In particular, crashes at intersections occur frequently due to distracted drivers or missing traffic signals, having lasting consequences on drivers. Taking this into consideration, VirtuRoad can train its drivers to become more alert to their surroundings through their simulations.

    From learning how to fix flat tires to helping old drivers get back on the road, VirtuRoad’s impact is now furthered through its new focus on emotional regulation.

    At the end of the day, Sara’s journey to developing this virtual reality simulator was not an easy one. As she stated, many investors were reluctant to invest in a startup created by teens. However, she has proven that if you put your mind and heart into something, you will find a way to achieve it no matter what. As a teenager who also has entrepreneurial ambitions of my own, her story has been especially inspiring. I hope that others, like Sara, can find the courage to develop their own innovations that they’re passionate about!

  7. Truck driving simulator, 10 dollars on steam. An all in one package game simulating the work of a sleep deprived trucker who’s going to ram 50 miles an hour into the SUV of a family on vacation. Driving is completely safe. It’s only when the things that are not supposed to happen, happen, that it gets bad. Profound insights, I know. It’s great seeing the application of virtual reality besides in games and Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt to consume our attention spans. Setting up a driving simulator is certainly not a novel idea, even the idea of virtual reality driving has been done before. Yet most of those applications are for gaming, VirtuRoad is the one of the first to shift the focus to education.

    Yet as advanced as it would get, to simulate ways to avoid accidents is an impossible task. It’s like survivorship bias. Simulating common accidents and showing ways to get out of it is certainly helpful. Yet the dangers of the road are not the common accidents but the unexpected sleep deprived truckers. Another flaw with the system would be the feedback as well. Crashing into a 3d model is way less impactful than into a 50,000 pound semi truck. No matter how hard one pretends, the stakes of crashing in real life are way more than in the simulations. Someone feeling more confident at the wheel after the program could be potentially dangerous. The simulation is limited to a virtual reality plane where everything is planned. In the real world, it wouldn’t just be cars you’d crash into. Falling billboard signs, prancing deer, sleeping truckers, there’s so many factors that are simply not in the simulation. This issue, mentioned by Sara, is of how VirtuRoad isn’t a replacement for driving schools. Although she hopes to partner with the driving schools to use it as a tool.

    But, what if it is a replacement? Although at the cost of convenience, places with these VR driving can be set up. Certain machines can be build to simulate minor impacts by yanking the chair back and forth. Essentially an arcade machine with VR that provides feedback. To even better simulate the chaos of the road, the new drivers can be put into a Virtual Reality world where they traverse different roads. What better way to simulate bad driving with inexperienced drivers? Now without the looming presence of an instructor, you’re driving alone and gaining experience, alongside other new drivers. What better way to learn how to drive by avoiding crashes with your biggest danger, people that drive as bad as you?

  8. Wow Sara, you are truly an inspirational young woman, and thank you for sharing your entrepreneurial journey!

    As a 16-year old who got her driver’s license less than a month ago, VirtuRoad is a program that I would certainly use. I live in Toronto, Canada where the roads are always bustling, and quite honestly, driving terrifies me! I also love your ideas of making VirtuRoad rentable, having a monthly subscription, and of partnering with local driving schools as it will make the program accessible and affordable to tons of young drivers like me. Although VirtuRoad certainly targets young, new drivers, perhaps it could also be used to increase elderly people’s confidence in their driving skills as they age.

    Throughout the article, you mention how you “leveraged” virtual reality (VR) technology, and VirtuRoad is a clear example of expanding the use of VR technology since it is typically used for video games. However, as technology is “leveraged” by young entrepreneurs like Sara, we must also leverage the knowledge we hold and challenge our societal norms. Despite VirtuRoad being a unique and much needed program, a big challenge faced by Sara and her team was that many investors did not fund VirtuRoad because it is being developed by teenagers. Society has a preconception that teenagers are not as capable or reliable as adults, when really, having a business run by teenagers can be leveraged. Since the main target market for VirtuRoad is young, teen drivers, the fact that it is run by teens is an advantage because the developers know exactly how to connect with, and reach their target market. Sara and her team have information and shared experiences with their target market that other people, like the potential investors, lack. Moreover, both myself and Sara’s team are females, and many stereotypes depict women as “weak,” or not as capable as men. I have experienced these stereotypes in my own life, such as in elementary school, when only the boys were chosen to help carry chairs because the girls were “too weak.”

    Although it is difficult, we should all work together to break down barriers faced by young, female entrepreneurs. Sara and her team’s development of an incredible program like VirtuRoad prove that youth are the minds of the future, and that age or gender should not be obstacles that stop them from making the world a better place.

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