Trying Out New Technology in the Sky

At 1:50pm local time today Lufthansa 464 will turn onto the runway in Frankfurt and take off on its way to Orlando in Florida, where it’ll land just before 6:00pm east coast time. But unlike most days, the Boeing 747–400 will be hosting a Lufthansa FlyingLab. A cross between a passenger experience lab, a product testing lab in the sky, and an onboard conference, the FlyingLab flights are held onboard regular scheduled Lufthansa flights.

Dr Torsten Wingenter, Head of Digital Innovations at Lufthansa, talking onboard the first FlyingLab which was held onboard the inaugural flight from Frankfurt to San Jose on 1st July 2016. (📷: Lufthansa)

The first every FlyingLab was on Lufthansa’s inaugural flight from Frankfurt to San Jose in July last year, which hosted an onboard conference with four speakers streamed directly to passenger laptops, tablets, and phones. All the while being 30,000 ft over the Atlantic ocean.

“We hand out gadgets and new technology to our guests to test out. On the first FlyingLab to San Jose last year, we tested the Samsung Gear VR and Neuroon, a sleep mask that monitors your brain waves and pulse and recommends when you should sleep and how much to sleep you require.” — Torsten Wingenter

The most interesting part about the whole idea? Getting involved with one of Lufthansa’s FlyingLabs is free, all you need is a ticket for the right flight.

From Frankfurt to San Jose (Video credit: Lufthansa)

This year there have been FlyingLabs on route to both New York Fashion Week in February, and SXSW in March, each focused on the event the passengers onboard the flights are—at least for the most part—heading towards.

The two labs provided rather different experiences for passengers onboard the flights. The lab on route to New York fashion week had an onboard fashion show, and a host of wearable technology, while the flight to SXSW was full of technology and art and the discussion was around the impacts of digitization.

Trying out Microsoft’s HoloLens while 30,000ft over the Atlantic on route to SXSW. (📷: Lufthansa)

Today’s flight will be the fifth time that the airline has hosted a flying conference on one of its long haul flights. While all of the labs have had presentations and technology demos, this is the first in collaboration with another company.

Frankfurt Airport, Terminal 1 Gate Z50, before departure on May 15th. (📷: NewAer)

For Lufthansa the laboratories are about testing new technology in the place where it’s actually going to get used, by the people that are likely to use it.

“We try out different mobile technologies to see if this is something that we should offer to our status customers in a year or so. It also allows passengers to test out technologies that are new to them.” — Torsten Wingenter

For manufacturers and companies—large or small—with new hardware that could be of interest, it’s an amazing way to get access to the fourth largest airline on the planet. Especially true for small startups and open hardware companies, where it might well be the only way to get the attention of a huge company like Lufthansa.

For the rest of us? It’s probably the coolest way to get to a technology conference on the planet.

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Scientist, Author, Hacker, Maker, and Journalist.

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Alasdair Allan

Alasdair Allan

Scientist, Author, Hacker, Maker, and Journalist.