Emirates AR toy

Image via Emirates

APEX Insight: Augmented reality is providing airlines with a way to entertain children on board without taking up weight or space in the cabin.

Emirates has integrated a children’s plush toy with a 3D augmented reality (AR) experience. On all flights since 1 December, the carrier has been giving young passengers a Noel the Polar Bear dangler and stuffed animal. However, unlike the rest of Emirates’ Fly With Me Animals, the polar bear comes with a gift card that digitally unfolds to show a 3D AR animation.

Noel’s story, about his family at home in the North Pole and receiving a gift for Christmas, took six months to develop with Buzz Products, whose design studio came up with the original concept for Emirates’ Fly With Me Animals.

Leonard Hamersfeld, director of Buzz, claims, “We understand that technology is as prevalent with children today as it is with adults, and is now a key part of entertaining kids on board. Integrating physical products with technology is an important focus in children’s development and play patterns.”

Buzz Products isn’t the only children’s in-flight entertainment specialist to capitalize on AR. Charlotte Gade, head of Consulting and Concept Development at KIDZInflight, explains, “Kids are the only passenger group that can basically set the agenda for the cabin environment. If the kids aren’t happy the whole cabin can be influenced. Airlines have every interest in keeping kids well-entertained.”

This fact, alongside the success of the Pokémon Go app, which uses AR technology, motivated KIDZInflight to team up with Zappar. Once the app spots a zap code it recognized – Gade says the codes can be printed on kids’ onboard activities and be as small as 8mm in diameter – it uses AR to make them come alive with content such as photos, videos and games.

AR works just as well on the ground, too. Following the introduction of Mr Adventure at London’s Heathrow Airport in the summer of 2016, Heathrow Airport began offering an AR Mr Men Little Miss experience in July of this year.

Children are challenged with helping Mr Adventure and Little Miss Explorer search the terminals to find five hidden badges. The app will identify when a child has reached each badge’s hiding place and will play a 3D animated video, enabling the child to photograph/video themselves with the characters. Once they collect all five, they can receive limited edition iron-on badges from the airport’s information desks.

Heathrow says kids love the surprise of getting real-life badges at the end of the game and, interestingly, the three offers above all link back to more traditional, physical activities and toys. For now, it seems a combination of the two is best at keeping kids entertained throughout their journey.

If you’re interested in more examples of the integration of AR and toys, click here.