Tech That Kit Out!

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In a world driven by budgets, is there any space to advance technology in amenity kits past the initial stages

by Hayley Hartland

Technology. We can’t live without it. From the computers on our desks to the smartphones we carry in our pockets, there is no denying that we have an obsession and a reliance on the very latest gadgets. I am no different, I am writing this, aptly, from 38,000 feet on a long haul flight across the Atlantic on a tablet with a bluetooth keyboard. Isn’t technology truly amazing?

It also seems to be ever-changing. As soon as you have bought the latest, state-of-the-art item, by the time you have got it home, proudly taken it out of the box and charged it up, it is already ‘old hat’ and has been replaced by something new. The constant thirst to be at the forefront of fashion when it comes to gadgetry has kept the tech industry worth multi-billions worldwide, but has the aviation market managed to keep up in its offerings onboard? And what is the ‘next big thing’ in technology in the amenities market?

When travelling, whether you read, do a crossword or watch the ever-growing variety of films on the IFE system, there is no denying that we all need to do something to pass the time. A nine-hour flight can only be filled with so much people watching, and walking up and down the plane’s aisles. We have all been guilty of getting twitchy, usually around the 5 hour mark once the complimentary wine has been drunk, a film (or two) has been viewed and the inflight meal is now a distant memory. Sometimes things get so bad that it seems sensible to tune in to watch the plane fly across the ocean in a futile bid to make it fly quicker to your destination. This is just the adults. Children are notoriously difficult to keep entertained on terra firma, nevermind when they are confined in a tin can at 38,000 feet.

Children today are more used to technology than any generation before them. They are often better at navigating through apps and operating systems than any adult I have ever met. This creates the airlines a real challenge when it comes to entertaining them onboard. As Amenities has explored before, children often wish to re-connect with their parents, and seek to include them in games and puzzles whilst onboard. However, it is no longer any use to just provide them with the simple amenity kits of old, those that contained crayons, colouring in books and puzzles, with the occasional card game to encourage parents to play along. It would be naïve to believe, in 2018 that these gifts are enough in isolation to keep our little ones entertained for the length of a long haul flight – sooner or later they will be back reaching for the technology they use everyday.

So what are the airlines doing to capture the imagination of these little travellers? As soon as their attention diverts away from the provided kits, and to their own technology Airlines have lost the opportunity to encourage brand awareness. Airlines know that these pint-sized passengers are the fee paying customers of tomorrow, and so to give them an exciting, innovative experience on some of their first flights, is a way of capturing brand loyalty long into the future.

In video-gaming it has been said that the next big thing will be the use of Augmented and Visual Reality (AR/VR) to really catapult players from their living rooms into the world of the game they are playing, so they can experience it 3D. Although this technology is currently in its infancy, there is no denying it is making a big impact, with VR headsets featuring on a number of kids (and big kids) Christmas lists for the last couple of years. It appears that airlines seem to be finding this technology to be quite the catalyst for creative ideas, with a number of them creating prototypes that are making their way into everyday onboard items, in particular, and possibly not surprisingly, children’s kits.

Air New Zealand for example has created a ‘spatial computing travel experience’ with Magic Leap, a multi-player game experience that allows users through the use of a wearable computer to explore in incredible detail a 3D map of New Zealand where they can answer quiz questions, collect golden eggs and meet a grumpy hobbit.  Although very much in its infancy, Air New Zealand are spear-heading this kind of technology and understand, in the words of their General Manager of Global Brand and Content Marketing, Jodi Williams, that it as an important step towards understanding the part spatial computing could play in the future customer experience.

Air New Zealand are by no means the only airlines to be experimenting with technology for their passengers. Lufthansa debuted their in-flight VR prototype on their Dubai bound flight in August, and excitingly AK Service have teamed up with Rossiya Airlines to create a fully comprehensive, interactive AR kid’s kit.

Today, the smallest of Rossiya’s Airline’s passengers have the opportunity to enjoy an activity book, which is brought to life by using the “Rossiya Kids” mobile app. This allows them to immerse themselves in a bright, magical world using the smartphone that we all now carry in our pockets. Using AR technology the stickers in the book are brought to life and can be used and enjoyed long after the children’s journey is over.

However, any technology onboard is only as successful as the airlines will allow it to be. In a world that is driven by budgets, and creating kits for the lowest price, is there any space to advance this technology past this initial stage? Without investment there cannot be any innovation, so the airlines may have to stretch themselves to begin to truly create some new and exciting entertainment products for the onboard market.

Speaking to AK Service Danar, Head of Digital, he seems extremely positive about the future. He says ‘the strong interest of airlines in AR/VR has surpassed all our expectations,’ but he believes that is can be explained as it is the next way to ‘take kits to a whole new level, making every flight truly impressive.’

Airlines have long been concerned with their longevity of their amenity offerings. Wanting to make sure that they get the most ‘’bang for their buck’ and their branding continues to be used long after the passenger’s journey is over. Danar believes that technology is the best way for airlines to achieve this. Although currently focussed on the children’s market he considers that, although AR technology can be utilised for adults, but it is important to ensure that it is ‘useful and interesting…and should have a value for each of them.’

Using AR and VR technology for travel seems a natural mix. Passengers could explore their destinations before they get there, get facts and information in real time, learn new skills and maybe have a little fun along the way. Although this level of technology seems a little way off, who 50 years ago would have thought that we carry more technology in our pocket than they had in the first craft that were shot into space?

It will certainly be exciting to see where technology will take the next stage of the amenities market. With gadgets and gizmos infiltrating every other part of our lives it seems inevitable that our travel experience will also soon be enhanced by them. It is clear that the kids are leading the charge, but I hope it isn’t too long until us young at heart get to play with some cool technology whilst travelling the world.

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