Qantas is giving its first-class passengers a Samsung Gear VR headset on flights and in airport lounges as part of a three-month trial exploring virtual reality entertainment.
Starting in mid-February, the trial will see Gear VR headsets lent to passengers in Sydney and Melbourne's first-class lounges, as well as in the first-class cabins on select A380 aircraft. Qantas is the first and only airline to offer the gadgets.
Using technology borrowed from the Oculus Rift gaming accessory, Samsung Gear VR is a headset that uses the company's Galaxy Note 4 smartphone to beam an entirely immersive 3D environment into the wearer's eyes. The technology can be used for films, games and visual experiences, which completely surround the user and react to their movements.
For now, the headsets will be used to show virtual tours of the airline's first-class lounges and show passengers what landing an A380 looks like before they board. But the airline says Gear VR will also showcase "the latest inflight blockbuster movies".
An industry first
Olivia Wirth, the airline's group executive for brand, marketing and corporate affairs, said virtual reality technology "gives us a completely new way to connect with our customers... from an inflight entertainment perspective, it's an industry first".
Qantas is also working with production company Jaunt to develop and produce live-action content, including footage of the plane's destination, to be shown through Gear VR during the flight.
Tourist NT, the tourist board for Australia's Northern Territory, has also partnered with Qantas to create content for the Gear VR, and its first product is a 3D experience of the Kakadu National Park.
Not just a gadget for entertaining wealthy passengers, Gear VR can be used as a training tool for airline pilots and has been trialled by Virgin Atlantic, a source familiar with Samsung's plans for Gear VR told IBTimes UK last year.
Although refusing to comment on specific partners, Samsung's vice-president of enterprise business, Graham Long, said the company is talking to a number of airlines, train operators, car manufacturers and retailers in regard to using Gear VR.
Long said: "We're talking with a number of automotive manufacturers so they will be able to give you a virtual tour of your car. You can walk around it and get in it; it's fantastic. We can't mention the customer names yet, but they are very much [UK household names]. This is about us as consumers being increasingly demanding and driving the pace of change."
Samsung also has its eyes set on UK railways. Long said: "We're engaged with a number of rail operators because they are now looking at how they utilise technology."