Virtual Reality Coming to an Airplane Near You…

Posted in In the Air

If Airbus has their way, Virtual Reality on airplanes won’t just be a futuristic wish like flying cars or healthy quesadillas, it’ll be the norm on flights. Airbus was just granted a patent three weeks ago that gives them the right to create air-helmets capable of delivering video images via “an opto-electronic screen formed by a portion, of the helmet,” according to the patent filing. In layman’s terms, that means your seat could come with a helmet that you strap on in order to watch movies which may or may not be fully immersive.

Essentially, you’d be able to say goodbye to that claustrophobic feeling when you look around the plane and realize that you and three hundred people are all hurtling through time and space in a metal tube. Instead, your brain would be tricked into thinking you were somewhere else, experiencing whatever you dialed up on the headset. Maybe you’re treking through Patagonia or walking around Willy Wonka’s factory (note to Virtual Reality designers: please make this happen).

The patent also calls for a virtual keyboard that would display on the tray table so you can theoretically work in your new virtual-space as well. To make things even more futuristic, you’d have to wear special gloves with haptic feedback (i.e. responsive sensors) to interact with the virtual keyboard. From the outside, it’ll look like you’re typing on nothing wearing strange gloves. Inside the helmet, though, you could be writing the next Great American Novel while riding on the Virtual Orient Express.

Before you get too excited about the Virtual Revolution coming soon to your new Airbus, know this: big companies like this patent things ALL THE TIME. Remember the economy class bike seats? Those aren’t very likely to see the light of day and I doubt these VR helmets will make it onto planes anytime soon. First of all, they’ll probably be heavy and any added weight to the plane means more expenses as it takes more fuel to carry more weight. Second, there’s a sanitary issue here. Would you put your head in a helmet if somebody else’s head was just in there? Sounds like a great way to get pink eye. Third, and perhaps the most practical reason why this won’t happen, VR sets are most likely to be personal, portable things that we own similar to tablets today. The Oculus Rift is an incredible piece of technology and perhaps the advance I’m most excited about in the tech world. Within the next few years, the Oculus Rift is going to be available for purchase and I think it’ll transform how we interact with media. Who needs big flat screen TVs when your entire field of vision could be co-opted by a football game? If everyone has their own VR headset, then there’s no purpose to creating permanent accessories in the flight cabin.

Virtual Reality is coming to an airplane near you sooner than you think — it just may not be through this Airbus patent.


Image via US Patent 8,814,266 B2

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