Airbus looking at virtual reality helmets for stressed passengers

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The VR helmet is designed to reduce air passenger stress

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For many people, modern air travel is so stressful and unpleasant that they'd much rather be somewhere else. In an effort to oblige them, Airbus is building on its windowless virtual reality cockpit concept with its patent application for a VR helmet that's designed to let passengers swap the discomfort of Coach for a more calming virtual experience.

Air travel isn't what used to be. True, tickets are cheaper, but for those in the economy seats, the heyday of Mad Men comfort and service are long gone, and even those who can afford the luxury of First Class don't always have the best of it. Boredom before, during, and after a flight is common, and air cabins can often be unpleasant; full of unwanted noises, smells, and crowding. And then there's the obvious problem of claustrophobia that sitting in a plastic and aluminum tube does little to help.

According to Airbus, current entertainment options are often not enough to relieve the stress of flying, so one solution that the EU consortium is exploring is to use VR technology to take passengers as far out of the cabin experience as possible without actually leaving their seat.

The system is intended as more than just a means of delivering entertainment. It is a way of relieving passenger stress by providing isolation and an alternative environment designed to calm passenger’s down through music, videos, social media, special relaxation programs, and even smells.

The key to the Airbus system described in the patent is a VR helmet installed in or on the passenger seat. When folded away, the helmet and its carrier form part of the headrest. In operation, the helmet folds over the passenger's head along with a sliding visor. The adjustable helmet remains attached to its carrier, but still has some degree of movement independent of the seat back.

The patent offers a number of variations on the visor. In some, the visor is transparent and in other it’s at least partly opaque for greater isolation. In some versions, the transparency of the visor is adjustable. What all share is the ability to block out the outside world to one degree or another and replace it with projected images and videos.

Along with the visor, the helmet also boasts movable earphones, a microphone, a remote control, an air circulation system that can pipe in smells or oxygen for greater relaxation, and even a built-in airbag in the event of dangerous turbulence or other accidents. It's also customizable as to features or decorations.

Airbus says that the helmet can incorporate glasses to display 3D images, holograms or augmented reality. It can also connect to a passenger's own devices, such as computers, smartphones, and tablets, and can generate a virtual keyboard using motion capture gloves with the visor providing a realistic representation of the keyboard and the user’s hands. In addition, there's a remote control that can also be made virtual.

As a nod to the economics of air travel, the helmet can be made to swap out with the standard headrest, so it can be available to passengers on request or as a paid extra. Also, the number of parts of the helmet shell can vary, or it can be made out of fabric with supporting arches that are either rigid or inflatable.

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