Meta is finally rolling out the long-awaited travel mode for Quest 2 and Quest 3, ostensibly hacking away another unique feature from Apple Vision Pro.

Update (May 13th, 2024):  Meta says the new Quest 2/3 Travel Mode was specially tuned to account for the motion of an airplane, even when it comes to looking out the window. The company says in a blog post it will be updating Travel Mode in the future to work with other modes of transportation, such as trains.

It’s being pitched as an experimental feature for now, so to activate Travel Mode you’ll need to select it in the Experimental section of the Settings menu, which will then let you toggle Travel Mode on and off from Quick Settings.

The original article announcing Travel Mode follows below:

Original Article (January 25th, 2024): Airplanes seem like an ideal place to dive into VR, as you can switch out the cramped environment of the cabin for a giant movie theater, or whittle away the hours browsing the web on a massive screensomething that shouldn’t bother your seat mates too much. Although Quest’s tracking is one of the most reliable out there, it still has trouble in moving vehicles like airplanes and cars. Meta is apparently working to fix that.

For anyone who’s tried to use Quest on an airplane, it’s basically only usable when you’ve reached a consistent altitude and direction. When you’re taxiing, banking, taking-off or landing, you’ll quickly find yourself being unwittingly jostled around in VR, making it distractingly unusable. Gain attitude, and you might find yourself falling through the virtual floor.

Responding to X (formerly Twitter) user Andrew Fox, Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth says the company is working on a way to make Quest work better for in-flight entertainment.

Here’s Bosworth’s response:

“No, we use an IMU to keep objects localized relative to your headset motion so moving vehicles represent a challenge (when they accelerate in any direction). We also use the cameras, of course, they work together as the IMU is higher frequency but lower accuracy. Working on it!”

The issue is basically the same for any optically-tracked VR headset on the market at this point. However, this hasn’t stopped companies from thinking of clever ways around it. Holoride, an Audi co-founded startup, partnered with HTC to hook its standalone Vive Flow headset into cars using a retrofitting device which accounts for the vehicle’s relative motion, letting users engage with a handful of licensed apps.

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In 2021, Meta announced it was attempting something similar in a partnership with BMW, which would more accurately anchor virtual objects by hooking Quest’s tracking system into the car itself. Although the company issued an update on the research project in mid-2023, it’s still unclear when we’ll see it in the company’s consumer VR headsets.

Undoubtedly one of the biggest names to promise a solution to travel woes lately is Apple, as the company announced its $3,500 Vision Pro headset would include a ‘Travel’ mode, which Apple says can be used to “stabilize visuals for use on planes.” How this works is still a mystery at this point, although it’s possible the headset switches to a special tracking mode based purely on visual sensors while ignoring IMUs entirely. It would lead to less accurate tracking overall, but at least be useable in an airplane.

Could Meta be up to something similar? It’s likely. If the company wants to keep core feature parity with Vision Pro, which launches February 2nd, we may see something sooner rather than later. Of course, there’s no timeline on Meta’s efforts just yet, so we’ll be keeping an eye on Bosworth’s Instagram, as he regularly does Q&As there.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 4,000 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • Blaexe

    Airplane mode was datamined back in August already in v57.

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    There was recent news that, when a door plug was ripped out of an Alaska Airlines Boing 737 Max mid-flight, luckily only non-human objects were sucked outside. One of them was an iPhone currently plugged in for charging. The cable was ripped off, with the plug still stuck in the phone while it tumbled 16,000ft/4.9km down towards earth.

    To everyone’s surprise it survived, landed by the side of a road where someone on a walk found it. And since it was still running and had no screen lock on, he could find out who it belonged to, and determine that it contained travel information and a baggage claim for the flight Alaska 1282 with the missing door.

    This led to some interesting discussions about the terminal velocity of small object and the usefulness of protective cases. What stuck most with me was a comment that the phone obviously only survived because it was in Airplane mode, otherwise it would have fallen to the ground like a rock and smashed into a thousand pieces. This highly scientific argument got me thinking that what we need on our still very front heavy HMDs aren’t Airplane Travel modes, but actual Airplane modes, or maybe Air Ballon modes, to compensate for all the weight and make XR a more uplifting experience.

    • Arno van Wingerde

      This incident also shows that Apple’s plugs are more durable than Boeing’s …

  • John G

    I’ve binge watched “American Gods” on an international flight without a problem, or at least much of one. You have to turn tracking off.

    The only real frustration was not being able to use pass through mode. That would be fantastic if they can support that. There were a few times I didn’t know a flight attendant was there, especially as I had to use isolating headphones.

    The headset wasn’t really loud enough with the native speakers.

    So full support, and support of pass through would be fantastic.

    == John ==

  • fcpw

    AVP is starting to look like the most expensive Meta R&D project of all time…