Qantas lets passengers in First Class try out Samsung Gear virtual reality headsets

Qantas x Samsung Gear VR_680x404

By Jonny Clark, TheDesignAir

The future is here and no, this is not an April Fools’ joke. Qantas has partnered with Samsung Electronics Australia to launch a futuristic trial entertainment service that uses Samsung virtual reality (VR) technology to give customers a spectacular three dimensional experience in a 360 degree style interactive format.

Qantas’ clunky yet “Apple generation” stylish headsets will completely envelop customers in an immersive virtual world. Currently the entertainment features the sights and panoramic vistas of Qantas’ destinations, new product and of course a selection of the latest inflight blockbuster movies.

3-month trial for First Class passengers
As part of the trial, a number of Samsung Gear VR headsets will be made available to customers in Sydney and Melbourne International First Lounges as well as a worlds first: in the First Class cabins on select A380 services.

The trial will run for three months to assess customer feedback on how this kind of VR offering might add to their overall travel experience on long-haul flights – we have doubts that customers on-board will fully enjoy the experience – as it hasn’t ever been trialled in an environment that has inherent motion before (see our reasoning below). That said, you can’t help but applaud the airline, to embrace new technology like this – at it is a catalyst for other airlines to follow.

Qantas Group Executive, Brand, Marketing & Corporate Affairs Olivia Wirth said the technology will open up a new world of lounge and inflight entertainment for customers, as well as give Qantas a powerful way to preview destinations and experiences.

“Whether the user wants a virtual tour of our new Los Angeles First Lounge or experience an A380 landing from the tarmac, this technology gives us a completely new way to connect with our customers,” said Mrs Wirth. “From an inflight entertainment perspective, it’s an industry first. Qantas is committed to being at the forefront of innovation to give our passengers the very best and latest in-flight experiences, like accessing the virtual worlds of their favourite Hollywood blockbusters from the comfort of their seat 40,000 feet above the ground.”

The Samsung VR headsets will be featured in the First Class Lounge in Sydney and Melbourne from mid-February and on select A380 flights between Australia and Los Angeles in the First Class cabin from mid-March.

Our worry? Here comes the science bit…
Personally speaking, (as a commercial pilot), I use simulators all the time for training, which is in effect, giant virtual reality. The motions of the hydraulics aiding to the feeling of motion. I’ve also been in a simulator when the visual has been slightly out of sync, (where motion doesn’t match the visual experience) and the effects are nauseating. When two inputs to our brain mismatch – such as spinning on a chair with your eyes closed and then quickly stopping, we can feel sick. Why? Our brain tells us we are spinning in the opposite direction, even when we are stationary.

This is due to our lovely vestibular canals (which give us a sense of movement) being filled with water – which continues to move even when we aren’t. So if the plane, at 40,000 feet, decides to descend, or bank, or hits some unexpected turbulence, and someone was wearing this with an image of movie of something happening in a different direction to the plane’s movement, this could bring on a serious case of air sickness. Whatsmore, taking off the headset to find a sick bag, could increase the disorientation.

Being a world’s first, only time will tell whether this worry, based on experience, will actually really effect passengers detrimentally. Who knows, maybe there will be a ruling, such as not using it when the seatbelt sign is on? Either way, it’s exciting stuff!

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