Air New Zealand has a hot new tech toy.

Now it just needs to work out what to do with it.

The airline has demo'd an augmented reality (AR) game created in partnership with hot US startup Magic Leap and UK software outfit Framestore.

The much-hyped Magic Leap raised around US$2 billion to create an AR software platform and its US$2295 AR headset, called Lightwear - which was released late last year in the US and competes against the likes of Microsoft's HoloLens and Epson's Moverio. Any are picking that Apple will release its own AR headset next year.


The Herald donned a Lightwear headset then had a go at Air New Zealand's AR effort called the "Fact or Fantasy Game of New Zealand".

Three other players joined in, standing around a snooker-sized table with a topographic map of New Zealand.

The Lightwear headset makes floating holographic images appear on the virtual table. A Kiwi quizmaster asked questions as 3D representations of popular tourist destinations unfurled. Contestants played against each other, tapping a virtual Fact or Fantasy button after each question.

Unlike an all-encompassing virtual reality (VR) headset, an AR rig like the Lightwear lets you see the real-world, with objects imposed on it - so far fewer people get the motion sickness that afflicts some with VR.

And the ability to just "touch" virtual objects with your hands - such as the "Fact" or "Fantasy" buttons when you're choosing options for Air NZ's quiz, is more elegant than other solutions that require you to hold a wand or controller in your hand.

Your virtual field of vision is a little limited. You do have to look in the right spot at the right time to see elements of the game. Overall, though, it's clever stuff and eloquently developed.

But it's still very much a "version one" product. The headset feels heavy on your forehead after a few minutes, and uncomfortably warm.

The airline's content marketing GM, Jodi Williams, says Air NZ will take the game to the TRENZ tourism conference in Rotorua in May, to gauge interest from travel operators.


Flight Centre is among those already experimenting with AR and VR, though earlier its MD David Coombes noted that beneath the visual wow factor, there are still meat-and-potatoes issues to be worked through, such as finding and distributing fresh content.

The AR revolution is still waiting for its first "killer app", or a least its first virally popular app outside Pokemon Go in the smartphone world. It's the old chicken-and-egg conundrum, with most software makers unwilling to put too much effort into making AR games until there's a lot of AR hardware out there, and AR hardware makers loathe to reamp up production until a lot of software is in the market.

Playing Air NZ'
Playing Air NZ' "Fact or Fantasy Game of New Zealand," with Magic Leap's Lightwear augmented-reality goggles. Photo / Supplied.

Williams says Air NZ's game is largely an exercise in feeling-out AR technology.

She adds it's been a very low cost exercise, for Magic Leap has thrown in a lot of development and logistical support for Air NZ and a handful of other companies who are early adopters of its technology.

Williams says AR has the potential to open a whole new frontier of inflight entertainment.

But that will be a few years down the track, she qualifies.

Trying out Air NZ'
Trying out Air NZ' "Fact or Fantasy Game of New Zealand" augmentented reality game. Photo / Chris Keall.

So hold your emails about being annoyed by the person next to you flapping their hands at virtual butterflies, or trying to reel in virtual fish.

For now, it's something the airline is just experimenting with. The major immediate trend in passengers bringing their own tablets and other devices, and taking advantage of the new wi-fi option on some flights for BYO entertainment, Williams says.