Hainan Airlines provides Rokid AR glasses for in-flight entertainment

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A passenger tries on a pair of Rokid AR glasses on a Hainan Airlines flight in China.

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BEIJING – Hainan Airlines this week began allowing passengers on select routes to use Rokid augmented reality glasses for free for in-flight entertainment, the tech startup announced Thursday.

Rokid, a Chinese start-up, said it was the first time AR glasses – which allow computer images to be superimposed on the real world – have been used at scale on flights. Passengers can watch 3D movies, read e-books and play simple games using the glasses, instead of doing so on a built-in monitor.

Apple’s Vision Pro virtual reality headset, not yet available in China, comes with a motion-stabilized “travel mode” for use on airplanes. The device allows users to visualize the real world using what the company describes as “spatial computing” technology.

Rokid’s deal with Hainan Airlines is more of a marketing effort to boost consumer awareness of AR glasses, rather than a big commercial deal, the startup’s founder and CEO Misa Zhu told CNBC in a phone interview Wednesday.

He said Rokid was in talks “with many airlines” for similar partnerships, including at least one major international operator. Zhu said he was not authorized to reveal details, but expects more information in the coming months.

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Hainan Airlines is one of the leading airlines in China, and it also offers international routes. The company released a short video to promote its collaboration with Rokid.

Zhu said the airline purchased hundreds of Rokid AR glasses for passengers to use for free on more than 20 flights. Each pair sells for just over 3,000 yuan ($420) and weighs 75 grams.

For comparison, Apple’s Vision Pro costs about $3,500 and weighs 600 grams to 650 grams.

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Hainan Airlines first tested Rokid’s AR glasses on a commercial flight from Shenzhen to Xi’an on Wednesday, and is rolling out the devices on many more flights starting Thursday, Rokid said.

The first trial period is set for a month, to coincide with China’s week-long Lunar New Year holiday which officially begins on Saturday, when hundreds of millions of locals will ‘ travel at home.

“Airlines are excited because they can offer more services, and it’s very competitive,” Zhu said in Mandarin, translated by CNBC.

He said Rokid is in talks to introduce AR glasses into other modes of transportation, such as high-speed trains.

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