Japanese airline ANA invests in intriguing Avatar-X project

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Is asked what type of business are airlines in, most would possibly answer “transporting people from point A to point B by air”.

But what if the proper definition was to “connect” people?

A rather broader concept that can embrace other forms of communication, including those that do not involved physical transportation.

This is, apparently, the logic underlying the investment Japanese airline ANA is making in the so-called “Avatar” technology.

The airline’s Avatar-X programme, the space-oriented part of the broader ANA Avatar Initiative, is undertaken jointly with the Japanese space agency JAXA. It aims to (tele)transport skills from people on Earth to space, be it orbital space stations or even, in a much more distant future, space expeditions to the Moon, Mars or other planets.

Although the details are a bit sketchy at this stage, ANA’s avatar technology seems to involve, among others, technologies such as robotics and virtual reality to allow people the possibility of doing things remotely through an immersive experience.

Let’s say, for example, a doctor that is on Earth could be caring for a pacient at a space station without neither of the two noticing much of a difference.

The concept may not be exactly new, remotely operated machinery has been around for a while, but it seems that ANA and JAXA want to take it to a whole new level, particularly when it comes to the experiential side of it, linking it to the sort of “teleportation”-like experience that appears in some sci-fi movies.

But what does all of this have to do with the airline business?

Here’s what a source at ANA told us when we made them this exact question:

We believe that Avatars are a direct extension of the service that ANA as an airline has provided to our customers for over 60 years which is physically transporting and connecting them around the world. Currently, only about 6% of the world utilize airplanes and we realized that in order to dramatically increase our impact on the world we would need a new solution that could be scaled and made more available to everyone. Until now, airlines have only been able to provide its services to those who are physically, geographically, and economically able to do so. With Avatar technology we will be able to transport even more people around the world and physically teleport their skills, presence, and consciousness to a distant location instantaneously. This will not only raise transportation efficiency but also provide more opportunities for people to explore, experience, and collaborate with the world”.

But, what happens if this becomes a reality and the technology gets so good that you do not need to go places anymore? Would this not affect the core airline business?

We also believe that Avatars will help to boost our current air travel business. Like email and video conferencing (which were also initially predicted to negatively impact air demand), we are confident that Avatar technology will actually drive air demand as it will help to connect more people around the world and give many more people a reason to fly” replied our ANA source.

To test the concepts this project is exploring, ANA and JAXA have set up the Avatar X Lab i Oita, in the South of Japan, where multiple applications of this technology will be tested, some as mundane as fishing or farming. Let’s see what comes out of it!