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Air Race X: A Mixed Reality Revolution in Sports

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In the rapidly evolving landscape of virtual and augmented reality, there’s a quest to harness the full potential of these technologies, especially in the realm of sports entertainment. Air Race X, a groundbreaking project by Psychic VR, is taking a bold leap forward in redefining how we experience sports through immersive mixed reality formats.

A New Vision for Sports

The entertainment industry has seen virtual and augmented reality make waves, but professional sports remained largely untouched by these innovations until now. Instead of focusing on bringing existing sports to VR or creating entirely new sports for AR and VR mediums, Psychic VR has embarked on a unique mission with Air Race X. This project aims to digitize elements of an existing professional sport, combining real-world data and athletic performance to create a captivating mixed reality experience.

The Psychic VR Lab

Psychic VR Lab has been at the forefront of virtual and augmented reality innovation since 2019. Their Styly platform, designed for creating and viewing immersive content, has been a central component of their work. Users can craft scenes and experiences that can be shared via QR codes, enabling others to explore them on AR/VR devices. The platform has the potential to support a wide range of experiences at varying scales.

The Air Race X Concept

Air Race X marks Psychic’s foray into mixed reality air racing. To bring this unique concept to life, they enlisted the skills of Yoshi Muroya, a world championship-winning air pilot. Instead of the traditional format of air racing, where pilots compete in a single location, Air Race X enables pilots to fly the proposed course at their convenience from different parts of the world. The data from these performances is then compiled to create a mixed reality spectacle over Tokyo.

The Live Event Experience

Air Race X’s inaugural event was presented as a live experience, accessible both online and at physical locations in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. The race course was centered around the iconic Shibuya Crossing, where the flights of four pilots were digitally recreated and displayed simultaneously on VR and AR devices. The digital planes also allowed for novel scenarios, like two planes running the course concurrently without any collision risk.

The Occlusion Challenge

While Air Race X delivered a visually impressive experience, it faced a significant challenge – the absence of occlusion. Occlusion is essential for creating a sense of physical space in mixed reality experiences. In this case, it meant that digital content, including the planes and racecourse, didn’t interact with physical structures. This shortfall in occlusion undermined the concept’s core principle of bringing the race into physical space.

Hardware and Software Limitations

The lack of occlusion in Air Race X is partly attributed to hardware and software limitations. Many of the devices used for the experience lack depth sensors, which are crucial for occlusion. Even with depth sensors, achieving the level of occlusion required for Air Race X goes beyond the capabilities of most current technology. This limitation challenges the feasibility of projects like this in the present.

The Decision to Disable Occlusion

Curiously, Psychic intentionally disabled occlusion for Air Race X, even on devices equipped with depth or LiDAR sensors. They cited concerns about misalignment issues and the creation of “hard-to-see areas” and “non-visible areas” for the airplane. While this decision might have resolved some technical issues, it detracted from the core concept of the experience.

Future Challenges and Opportunities

Beyond occlusion challenges, Air Race X faces other hurdles. To sustain the project, it will need to attract an audience and find ways to monetize that audience. The avenues for monetization include paid access, advertisements, and sponsorships. During the event, sponsors like Lexus already had their logos displayed on virtual billboards within the immersive course.

The Essence of Live Sports

One of the core attractions of sports is the unpredictability of live events. Air Race X, while offering thrilling competition, remains prerecorded, and that might affect the sense of authenticity and excitement. Betting, although in a non-monetary form due to legal constraints, was available during the finals race. The possibility of introducing gambling for future events raises ethical questions given the prerecorded nature of the competition.

The Future of Air Race X

Despite the technical and logistical feats that underpin Air Race X, the absence of occlusion remains a significant challenge. The project appears ahead of its time, as current technology struggles to provide a fully immersive mixed reality experience.

Beyond Air Race X: CityXR

In addition to Air Race X, Psychic VR is also developing CityXR, another ambitious project aimed at transforming city spaces into virtual immersive playgrounds. Like Air Race X, CityXR faces its set of challenges, but it showcases the company’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of immersive technology.

In conclusion, Air Race X represents a bold attempt to blend professional sports with mixed reality technology. While the project is laden with potential, the absence of occlusion hinders the experience’s ability to truly bring the race into the physical world. As technology continues to advance, it’s possible that projects like Air Race X will find the tools they need to make their visionary concepts a reality. Until then, the world of mixed reality sports remains an exciting frontier waiting to be explored.