Lufthansa on virtual reality and turning an airplane into a FlyingLab

Image shows: Lufthansa FlyingLab, inflight digital conference

It’s easy to be cynical when companies say things like “2017 is our year of digitalization” and “our ambition is to be the most digital aviation group”.

But for Lufthansa, there is more to this than just PR puff.

Three innovations stand out particularly: Lufthansa’s FlyingLab, an inflight digital conference and tech testing experience; the use of immersive 3D mapping, and the use of 360° video/virtual reality to drive sales and upgrades.

Dr. Torsten Wingenter, Head of Digital Innovations at Lufthansa Airlines, sat down with ClickZ’s Andy Favell at the IAB conference at Mobile World Congress to tell us more.

Lufthansa FlyingLab

Lufthansa has built a platform called FlyingLab. This allows the airline to run an inflight conference with the keynote speakers streamed live to passengers’ personal devices – laptop, tablet or smartphone.

It also enables Lufthansa, corporate partners and passengers to test out new technology while travelling to their destination.

The inaugural FlyingLab took place in July 2016 between Frankfurt and San José, California. The most recent was a special SXSW FlyingLab took place March 2017 from Frankfurt to Huston, Texas, for the South by South West (SXSW) conference in Austin.

Dr. Wingenter explains:

“We have an inflight conference called FlyingLab. It is all about the digitization of the world and the influence on flying and in the flying lab you can experience this.

“On the SXSW flight we have eight speakers [including speakers from Daimler, Publicis, SAP, T-Mobile, Faber Ventures and M-Love]. We film them and stream the signal live to the personal devices of our guests. These are the passengers’ own devices or ones provided by Lufthansa or a technology partner. They listen through the headphones and the mobile device has a split screen showing the video of the speaker in one part and the presentation slides on the other.

No other airline has a technology platform like this.”

The image below shows Dr. Wingenter’s presentation being filmed and streamed live to the devices of FlyingLab passengers.

The image shows Dr. Wingenter presentation being filmed and streamed live to the devices of FlyingLab passengers.

The FlyingLab also allows the testing of inflight technologies. On the SXSW flight, passengers could test out Avegant Glyph, video headset, QuietOn noise cancelation earplugs and smart jewelry from Ringly.

“We hand out gadgets and new technology to our guests to test out. On the first FlyingLab to San Jose last year, we tested the Samsung Gear VR and Neuroon, a sleep mask that monitors your brain waves and pulse and recommends when you should sleep and how much to sleep you require.

“On the SXSW flight we have Avegant Glyph. This is a video headset that projects images [from a smartphone, laptop or game console] directly onto retina in your eyes. It is a pair of headphones and you pull down the viewing screen. Glyph is interesting to us, because it allows the crew to see if the person is sleeping or watching a movie, so they know whether to bother them or not.

“We try out different mobile technologies to see if this is something that we should offer to our status customers in a year or so. It also allows passengers to test out technologies that are new to them.”

The video below was shot on the inaugural FlyingLab to San José:

The FlyingLab is proving popular. Before Lufthansa started advertising the SXSW flight to the public in February 2017, business class was already sold out, says Dr. Wingenter:

“Business class was already sold out through our contacts, because companies such as Mercedes wanted to book all of their press and client guests onto the flight. SXSW is a big event of Mercedes this year, it has lots of activities over there, and Dr. Dieter Zetsche, the CEO is doing a keynote over there.”

Inflight VR and 360° video

Mentioning VR or 360° video and air travel, naturally leads most people to conjure up the image of immersive inflight films and entertainment, but this isn’t likely anytime soon, explains Dr. Wingenter:

“Everyone thinks about having inflight entertainment in your VR goggles, but until the big Hollywood Studios start to produce 360° content so we can have enough content for our guests on a nine hour flight, it doesn’t make sense. We can produce some content, but we can’t produce enough for nine hours.”

Lufthansa, with partner 3Spin, showed off a VR Moving Map, or a “glass-bottom” plane, at the ITB show in Berlin, in March 2017. This enables customers with a VR headset to follow the route in 3D and find out more about cities along the way.

“One of our latest inventions is a 360° moving map. This means that when you are sitting on the plane you can see what cities you are flying over. It is a 3D Google map with certain cities that we have enhanced. There is a marker and when you aim on it with your eye for a few seconds then new content comes up, for example showing the historic sites of Vienna.”

Selling flights with VR and 360° video

Back on the ground, Lufthansa is using VR/360° video for something that has a more direct impact on the bottom line: sales.

“For events we used to have to ship demo seats – it can cost $20,000 to $30,000 to ship airline seats to the US for a trade show – to show, for example, how the new premium economy class looks.

“Now we use VR. We have 300 VR goggles so sales colleagues can show off our products.

“So at ITB 2016, we introduced an interactive 360° video of you sitting in business class. The flight attendant gives you your meal and you have to add the pepper and salt. In reality you use a controller – but in the movie you see yourself adding the pepper.”

The ITB demo is shown in the following video:

Travel shows are great, but for Dr. Wingenter VR really comes into its own at the airport.

“The most important thing is not doing the demos at shows, but to have VR at the point of sale. A lot of companies are talking about VR but the question is what are the use cases and how can you earn money with it.

“In February we started selling upgrades to premium economy by VR. So you are sitting at the gate, and a Lufthansa person comes up to you and asks if you would like to see a 360° video of your destination.

“First you experience your destination, e.g. San Jose, using the VR goggles; then you are asked if you would like to look round the new Lufthansa premium economy class. With the option to upgrade to premium economy for a special price.

 “It has been very successful and the most interesting part is that you can try before you buy. People don’t know what Premium economy is or looks like — what the seats are like.”

The video below shows San Jose in 360°. You don’t need a VR headset to view it. The YouTube viewer allows you to rotate the image using the arrows:

 

Read more from Mobile World Congress:

Why mobile video is massive and other lessons from Mobile World Congress 2017

Andy Favell is ClickZ’s columnist on mobile. He is a London-based freelance mobile/digital consultant, journalist and web editor. Contact him via LinkedIn or Twitter at Andy_Favell.

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