Exploring virtual reality’s future in air travel
Imagine a future airline in-flight experience where travellers can enter a virtual environment via the Metaverse without leaving their seats…visiting a relaxing town square with the soothing sounds of fountains and birds, exploring a nature trail, or even meeting the avatar of a fellow passenger on a park bench.
These were among the ideas submitted by participants in the 2022 HeroX/Airbus Metaverse Challenge, which attracted more than 60 submissions from individuals, teams and companies. Initiated by Tugrul Yildirim,Transformation leader at Technology and Engineering, this challenge was posted on the HeroX crowdsourcing platform – generating more than 16,800 views and 450-plus followers.
A total prize pool of $30,000 awarded to five winners
“Enhancing the passenger experience has always been a priority at Airbus, using innovation to improve the in-flight environment,” Yildirim explained. “We’re already at the cutting-edge in applying disruptive multimedia technologies – including studying how virtual reality can be applied. The HeroX/Airbus Challenge was created to see how others could envision the evolution of air travel via the Metaverse.”
The top submission: Capgemini’s Airbus “town square”
The winning entry was from Capgemini, an international information technology services company that proposed the virtual Airbus town square to win the top prize of $10,000. This environment would come alive after take-off, serving as a hub for an almost unlimited number of experiences in sights and sounds.
With the passenger logging in via tablets, smartphones and virtual reality headsets, the Airbus town square would be personalised for specifics of the trip (flight destination, and time zone changes to reduce jetlag, as examples) along with such traveller specifics as age, entertainment preferences and dietary restrictions. The hub also could serve as a platform for services – from in-flight shopping and the ordering of meals to booking hotels, car rentals and other post-flight services.
NFTs and a multiplayer VR environment
The HeroX/Airbus Challenge’s four other winners were awarded $5,000 each, and included a proposal by Silicon Harlem for an Ethereum-based project where users can purchase Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) that “bloom” into applications to book, experience and enjoy travel across artificial reality, virtual reality and the Metaverse. Based in New York, this company’s goal is to transform the city’s Harlem neighbourhood and other urban markets into technology and innovation hubs that fully engage in the digital economy.
Imersifi, a UK-based immersive technology company specialising in creating virtual and augmented reality applications, was another of the winners, proposing a multiplayer virtual reality environment to keep passengers entertained while flying. It would allow them to socialise with others from their seats (including taking 3D “walkarounds” together), while offering shopping and zones for gaming and relaxing.
Innovative proposals from individuals
One of the two winning proposals from individuals was the submission by H. Dhaliwal of Canada, with a virtual “sky lounge” application that would enable passengers to leave virtual “mementos” in the sky, view outside of the airplane from any seat, as well as order food and drinks to be served in real life by flight attendants. The other individual winner was Brandon EnWezoh of the U.S., with a metaverse super-app for passengers with flight-related stress, discomfort or boredom – offering an interactive 360-degree virtual reality environment composed of photo-realistic 3D visuals and incorporating real-time user/flight data.
“The HeroX/Airbus Challenge gave us an excellent view on how the public and companies are beginning to imagine the Metaverse’s role in future air travel,” concluded Yildirim. “We were very pleased with the variety and originality of the ideas that were submitted and we warmly thank all the participants for their contributions!”