Imagine traveling all over the world and seeing famous sites in an entirely new way from the comfort of your home. Soar up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, fly over the Roman Colosseum or look down at the world from the top of Mount Everest without ever leaving your sofa.
This might sound like fanciful thinking, but thanks to new drone and virtual reality technology, this kind of travel could change everything, making tourism more accessible than ever.
Helmut Hlavacs at the University of Vienna has developed such technology that allows people to strap themselves into a virtual reality headset and then control a drone at a tourist site, allowing that person to virtually visit any number of destinations. Cameras attached to the drone let you see things from the drone's point of view, taking you on a trip you couldn't even get if you physically went there.
"From a flight, you could get a very good impression of the site, things you would not normally be able to see if you were walking through the ruins," says Antonio Gentile, founder of InformAmuse, one of the researchers who worked with Hlavacs on the system.
Virtual tourism is already a thing, at least in the minds of those who like to think outside the box. In British Columbia, Canada, virtual reality tech allows users to hike, boat and ride through several of the country's national parks.
Then there's The Void, the world's first fully virtual reality theme park, with the first experience opening in Utah next year.
"From fighting intergalactic wars on alien planets, to casting spells in the darkest of dungeons, THE VOID presents the Future of Entertainment," writes the company on its website. "Only limited by imagination, our advanced Virtual-Reality technologies allow you to see, move, and feel our digital worlds in a completely immersive and realistic way."
Virtual tourism benefits those who don't have the resources, money or physical capabilities of indulging in real travel. Imagine a quadriplegic being able to virtually ski on the Swiss Alps. Imagine those who can't afford a European vacation seeing all the historical sites through a VR headset. Imagine people who have difficulty getting time off from work and other responsibilities having the opportunity of spending their few hours of free time wandering through the British Museum or Louvre.
Of course, using drones, like Hlavacs' system, does come with some problems. Not only are countries developing new rules about the use of drones within certain jurisdictions, but drones can also sometimes create hazards and they're not going to work very well in crowded places, which, unfortunately, includes many highly-visited tourist sites.
There's also a downside to virtual tourism, as well. Part of the fun of travel involves meeting locals, as well as sampling foods, and those are, unfortunately, something that can't yet be done with a drone and a VR headset.
The possibilities, though, are still there, and it's likely an entire new industry offering virtual reality tours will soon emerge. It's just another way of seeing the world, which is something we can all benefit from.
[Photo Credit: Moyan Breen | Flickr]