AVB: Aside from Lufthansa, are there any other airlines that you’re working with on VR tech?
Thomas Hoger: We are also working with Austrian, SWISS and Eurowings which are part of the Lufthansa Group.
AVB: In what ways are airlines exploring VR technology as an alternative to more traditional inflight entertainment systems?
TH: Virtual Reality allows passengers to expand their visual space virtually and experience things otherwise impossible on a plane. VR provides users with a more immersive kind of entertainment. Lufthansa currently offers two kinds of experiences.
The first is an already rolled-out app called “Lufthansa VR”. Passengers can download the app on various app stores and take it on the plane using their own headset — with this app users can enjoy curated 360° destinations and stories.
The second experience is a prototype called “VR Moving Map” which we have developed together with the customer experience team. It is exclusively available for testing on selected flights from Frankfurt to Dubai — this app displays the landscape underneath the plane in 3D with the possibility to virtually zoom into places to explore them further.
AVB: What would you say are the current limitations associated with the utilisation of VR in the air?
TH: VR content data is often quite large and therefore difficult to access while on the plane. Also, passengers need to stay aware of their surroundings, for example in an emergency situation, when the service begins or when the plane leaves the cruising altitude. These are all things a standard VR solution does not provide.
However, we have solved these challenges with our partner Lufthansa Systems. We are able to store VR content on an onboard server and we can tap into the passenger announcement system to inform users about the upcoming service.
Also, we can deactivate the experience or warn passengers in case of emergencies. Apart from that, some users wish for lighter VR headsets in general while maintaining the immersive experience — this is something which will be solved over time.
AVB: What is some the content that you’ve been working on that you have found works well with passengers?
TH: Our research has shown that passengers like to watch movies in a 360° environment. In addition, they like to explore the landscape underneath the plane, which is sometimes impossible in reality as it may be night time or cloudy. Also, passengers enjoyed relaxing content.
VR has the ability to simulate a cinema environment, it can virtually enlarge windows and make clouds see-through and passengers can “beam” themselves to a nice beach destination to listen to the waves.
AVB: Is there any type of customisation/variation in the content, depending on which region a particular flight might be heading to, or is just standard across all flights?
TH: I personally prefer using VR on mid- and long-haul flights as the time frame for inflight entertainment, in general, is very narrow on short flights. Content may vary on different routes. Our VR Moving Map currently works best when flying over land and cities which can be explored.
On flights which go mainly over water, there is seemingly not much to discover — however, an experience which invites users to explore the world beneath the ocean surface can also be appealing and quite educational too.
AVB: Over the next few years, how do you see VR technology and its content continuing to evolve in terms of the cabin experience on aircraft?
TH: Eventually headsets will become cheaper, lighter and more comfortable in the future which will further improve the experience. In addition, I expect VR and AR headsets to merge into all-in-one devices at some point. This will give us additional possibilities like switching seamlessly from one to the other — this means a passenger could sit in a 3D cinema and suddenly make the cinema room disappear when the onboard service begins while keeping a huge virtual screen in front of him.