Test flight in transparent airplane cabin

© Paul Prescott DeVIce - Fotolia com


“VR-Hyperspace” project uses virtual reality technology to deliver in-flight comfort

In the EU-sponsored “VR-Hyperspace” project, Fraunhofer IAO has teamed up with eight partners from six European countries to investigate how flight journeys can be made into a more pleasant experience using Virtual Reality. As part of the project, Fraunhofer IAO has employed state-of-the-art lighting and display technologies to develop an airplane cabin in which test subjects can immerse themselves in their own preferred personal environment.

Passenger aircraft are not known for great comfort levels. And the bad news is that there are no plans to give passengers more space in the airplane of the future either. On top of that, window spaces are set to become scarcer too. Against this backdrop, nine partners from six European countries are working together in the EU “VR-Hyperspace” project to make airplane journeys as pleasant as possible in the future.

Thanks to Virtual Reality and state-of-the-art lighting and display technology, the researchers already possess the tools to realize the vision of the airplane cabin of 2050. The multidisciplinary project team is also incorporating insights from the field of perceptual psychology into its work: not only are the research partners investigating how airplane passengers perceive comfort, they are also changing how passengers perceive both the space around them and themselves. The project’s declared goal is to bring about a paradigm shift in passenger comfort.

Within the project, Fraunhofer IAO has developed an airplane cabin mock-up whereby test subjects wearing 3D glasses sit in real airplane seats and can immerse themselves almost completely in virtual worlds: the backs of the seats are covered in display surfaces, flat-screen televisions are fitted in the floor, and 14 projectors can display images on the cabin walls. In combination with head tracking, this means passengers can experience the flight as if they were on a flying carpet.

For the air traveler 4.0, greater flight comfort means being able to shut out irritants and create their own preferred personal environment: at the push of a button, they can make the airplane walls transparent or bring up images of the palm-lined beach they are travelling to. If they are bothered by the seats in front of them, they can make those transparent too. They can block out the sound of screaming kids, and nervous flyers can display images of tropical islands or of a gentle stream flowing through a wood. The virtual environment allows business travelers to work with standard office applications while enjoying the sunshine on a desert island.

The subjects of the first test flights responded positively to the “transparent airplane cabin”: the scenarios permitted them to endure an uncomfortable situation for longer, and time seemed to pass quicker for them.