While the in-flight entertainment (IFE) sector comes to terms with the impact that pre-flight downloads and on-demand internet streaming services are having on traditional IFE models, the next wave of developments in this space could be even more revolutionary thanks to the emergence of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) entertainment solutions for airlines.
FTE caught up with Inflight VR and Osterhout Design Group at APEX Expo to find out if and when these new forms of entertainment are likely to appear onboard aircraft. “At present there’s no virtual reality solution tailored for the aviation industry. This technology has to be customised for use in an aircraft, which is where we come in,” said Nikolas Jaeger, Founder & CEO of Inflight VR.
FTE had the opportunity to try out the immersive VR-based entertainment system in person. Ranging from a wander around an entertainment hub where you select your entertainment option of choice simply by looking at it, to a game of chess in Winston Churchill’s old library and a movie experience that makes you feel like you are watching in a cinema, the experience was certainly impressive. The fact that you quickly forget where you are in reality makes the IFE appeal of this immediately clear.
“Imagine if you put on the VR headset and you are laying on a beach, watching a movie on a cinema screen or remaining productive at a virtual desk. It will completely the change the (in-flight) experience,” Jaeger said. He said a number of airlines are “super interested” in the concept, although some issues still need to be ironed out, such as removing the risk of any associated nausea if the aircraft experiences turbulence. The launch of the new Oculus Rift in early 2016 is expected to help address this.
‘Bringing IFE to a whole new level’
Having trialled the virtual reality IFE concept, FTE paid a visit to Osterhout Design Group, to experience augmented reality entertainment first-hand. ODG has worked with a variety of government and corporate partners in other sectors, and now has ambitions of breaking into the in-flight space. Wearing a set of R-7 Smart Glasses, you can watch a movie on what appears to be a 65-inch floating screen (the movie content was provided by Paramount Pictures for this trial), check your emails or even play interactive games simply by looking at a page in front of you. “Think about this: if you had an in-flight magazine and you could actually interact with every page of that magazine, that would be an amazing experience,” Patrick Johnson, Client Services Manager, ODG, told FTE. It is exactly this type of experience that augmented reality makes possible.
As the R-7 Smart Glasses support lenses of varying opacity, rather than completely immersing yourself in a virtual world, features appear to be overlaid on the real world in front of you. Checking emails with less opaque lenses allows you to remain completely aware of your surroundings, whereas the more opaque lenses are ideal for movie viewing, for instance.
When asked whether augmented reality IFE is a realistic proposition in typically cramped economy class cabins, Mick Eddy, ODG’s Director, Business Development, explained: “This brings it to a whole new level. Airlines will most likely push this out to their first class and premium passengers first. What we need is someone with a willingness to take the first bet on the next platform.” “It would be ideal for an airline that wants to have the “cool” factor,” Johnson added.
Inflight VR’s Jaeger has similar feelings. “Our virtual reality solution has been mostly tested on the ground, so our next goal is to test it with an airline partner. I expect traditional in-flight entertainment will stay, so virtual reality will be an extra service at first. VR will be big in 2016, though, so now is the right time for this. Of course, the inflight industry will take longer than the consumer industry, though.”
Preparing for a VR and AR ‘tidal wave’
With Oculus Rift set to launch in just a few months’ time, consumer interest in this space is set to rocket, which the likes of Inflight VR and ODG are hoping will pave the way for their entrance into the IFE market. “The Oculus launch will bring a lot of awareness. There’s going to be a VR tidal wave,” ODG’s Eddy said. “This will then create huge opportunities for AR. Next year’s going to be a big year.”
The likes of Qantas and Transavia have already emerged as first movers, trialling virtual reality IFE headsets, but it seems this is just the tip of the iceberg. If the virtual and augmented reality hype translates into high consumer uptake, it could be only a matter of time before travellers start to demand the technology at 30,000 feet.