AIR RACE X Press Conference Local Report

©Suguru Saito / Metaverse Japan Summit 2023

On July 13th, 2023, at the “Metaverse Japan Summit 2023” held at the Shibuya Stream Hall, Tokyo, Japan a press conference was held to announce a new air race, “AIR RACE X” in which air race pilot Yoshihide Muroya (Japan/2017 World Champion) and other international pilots will participate in.

Desmond Barry, Project Leader of AIR RACE X, took the stage via video at the press conference and announced that the final tournament of the AIR RACE X digital round will be held in Shibuya on October 15th, 2023. He also provided a detailed explanation of the race format and its future roadmap.

AIR RACE X will feature a new race format that combines actual flight with the latest digital technology. For the Digital Round racetrack, virtual pylons are set up in the city of Shibuya. At the airport locations of the pilots competing in this competition, the same racetrack will be reproduced around the world based on the location information of the pylons set up in Shibuya.

Pilots actually fly at locations around the world, and their ultra-high precision flight data is collected and analyzed online to generate competition data. The competition data is then visualized using XR technology. On the day of the finals, the pilots and spectators will be able to watch their flights on the streets of Shibuya, offering a new way to enjoy motorsports.

Flight data for the final tournament will be kept confidential by the tournament organizers until the day of the final. On the day of the final,Sunday 15th, October, a live race broadcast program will be broadcast worldwide, and the results of the race will be made public in real time. The winner of this year’s 2023 AIR RACE X competition will be announced.

In Shibuya, at the spectators venue, the race planes are reproduced with XR technology from the real metaverse platform “STYLY”. The aircraft will fly in front of the spectators and an exciting race will unfold in front of their eyes. Visitors will be able to watch the race in the city at speeds of up to 400km/h, through virtual pylons which is impossible to achieve in real life.

Eight international air race pilots, including Yoshihide Muroya, Australia’s Matt Hall (2019 World Champion), and Canada’s Pete McLeod, will compete in the memorable world premiere. AIR RACE X also announced that after the event is held in Shibuya in 2023, the Grand Championship will be held in 2024, along with four digital rounds and four digital rounds in 2025.

Desmond Barry concluded, “AIR RACE X, is a new dimension of motorsports, offering fans a new way to watch and experience the action and thrills of air racing. It also offers an incredible future where pilots in remote locations can compete with each other fairly and safely,” he said of his aspirations for AIR RACE X in the future.

Yoshihide Muroya took the stage at the press conference and spoke about the appeal of the XR technology used in AIR RACE X “a 5-dimensional motorsport that transcends time and space”, from his perspective as a pilot participating in the race.

“We believe that motorsports and XR technology have a great affinity. Flight data and control data of aircraft are recorded so it is easy to convert them into data. Therefore, since it is easy to reproduce, XR technology can be easily introduced into motorsports. With such reproduction the various efforts that pilots actually make in the aircraft will be better understood. For example, combining video feeds with slow motion and commentary would be interesting for spectators, as it would make the differences between the pilots clearer and easier to understand visually.”

Matt Hall and Pete McLeod, who like Muroya are also founders of AIR RACE X and were classmates during their Red Bull Air Race days, have been rivals and friends for a long time having trained together to become air race pilots. We were looking for a solution to the problem of air racing and we came together by using technology. We are looking forward to competing with each other again, but first in a remote format.

Finally, Muroya expressed his enthusiasm for this year’s competition as follows:

“This time it will be in a remote format, we won’t all be at the same location, however the actual flights themselves will be conducted by the actual pilots, no different than when we raced in 2019. The competition will be tougher this time as the data is more accurate. As a team and as pilots, we will do our best to win AIR RACE X event for the first time.”

In addition to Muroya, other speakers at the talk session that followed included Shinko Osada of Shibuya Future Design, Nobuhiko Watanabe of Psychic VR Lab, which provides STYLY, and Keisuke Toyoda, an architect and professor at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science. AIR RACE X offers a new style of spectating.

Mr. Watanabe explained the fusion of XR and motorsports, saying, “This is the first time that motorsports and XR are fused together at the city level,” and explained how XR works in the AIR RACE X competition as follows:

“In AIR RACE X, STYLY developed a mechanism that allows players to visualize and share their flights and other elements in real time by superimposing virtual data on top of the real Shibuya, where flying is not possible. This enables us to provide a realistic experience on the streets of Shibuya.”

AIR RACE X distributes a racetrack layout that mimics Shibuya to the pilots around the world, and the competitors fly based on that layout at their own locations. Flight data, such as deviations from the predetermined course or attitude deviations are fully recorded to within 3 centimetres.

Watanabe’s team receives this recorded data and plays it back on STYLY, mapping the data onto the actual streets of Shibuya. Then, within STYLY there is about a 1km area of data of Shibuya, where the players’ flight data is mapped, and the data recorded from the sensors is played back to show how the actual airplane model flew. This makes it possible to view powerful images of the flight as it flies between buildings.

Mr. Watanabe also discussed the reasons for his focus on sports and XR, stating that the “motorsports event had physical limitations in that it had to be held in real life, but this project made it possible by utilizing XR to fly over Shibuya, an element that is not possible in real life. This not only creates a completely new viewing experience, but also creates new rules and perspectives using digital technology, and we believe that this can be developed into an e-sport in the future. This will develop new fans of air racing, and furthermore, change air racing to a participatory format. Starting with this initiative this will be the first step toward popularizing air racing and making it something that more people can enjoy.”

Muroya described his encounter with XR: “At first I didn’t even know what kind of technology was out there, then I learned about XR: “at the Metaverse Japan Summit, I thought it might work,” he said, describing his expectations: “When we fly in airplanes, we don’t have passengers in case something goes wrong due to safety issues. If we were allowed to fly in the streets of Shibuya, I think we could, but that would be dangerous, so we can’t actually do it (laughs). So this is an opportunity for people who are in the city and who are not interested in airplanes to see it in this way. You have to go to the arena or to the venue to see the sport, but by making it accessible everywhere, I think the appeal of the sport will expand dramatically.”

Commenting on the potential for this initiative to improve the value of the city of Shibuya, Mr. Toyoda said, Metaverse and VR offer amazing new possibilities, but at the moment they are mainly individual experiences and connections in virtual space. As a result, he pointed out, it is quite difficult for everyone to have a shared experience and feel the energy of the experience together in urban spaces, and the lack of such an experience has led to sustainability and other issues. Mr. Toyoda noted that this situation is changing, and spoke of the following possibilities for the future.

“It is important that the XR allows the vibrations and sounds that are there to be shared by the city, and I expect that to become possible as the technology continues to evolve. It will be important to create festival-like excitement and experiences like the Monaco and Singapore GPs, where the entire city is excited and its value is greatly increased. We believe that cities are uniquely capable of creating excitement, such as sharing sounds with everyone gathered there or viewing the urban landscape. We hope to realize these possibilities this time around.”

The talk session concluded with an exchange of views on the future of AIR RACE X and potential partners with which to collaborate. Mr. Watanabe, from his position in charge of XR expression, stated that “even more realistic expression will be required in the future.We will need partners to provide sound and other sensory elements. We would like to work with various partners to enhance the experience and atmosphere of AIR RACE X outside of the XR video, which is our forte. We would also like to work with various artists to try to publish NFT, and with an eye toward the creation of a web3-based community, we would like to enliven Shibuya together.”

Mr. Toyoda said that his role as an architect is how to incorporate this project into an actual city and how to create synergy. “The experience of gathering in an actual city doubles the fun. I would like to create a mechanism and know-how together to amplify that excitement by three or four times.”

“For example, we would like to experiment with synergies that include a sense of fun, such as allowing sponsors to freely construct buildings in a virtual space that they are not actually constructing. Furthermore, since this project is a global one, we want to make sure that people not only have the venue all to themselves, but can also watch the games around the world and make it a local event for every city. We feel that this is a very important possibility in the current global expansion of MR and XR. AIR RACE X is a great opportunity to do that.”

From a pilot’s perspective, Muroya said, “We will fight to make it to the World Championship in 2025,” and went on to say the following:

“I hope that we can build on these digital rounds and eventually have a realistic Grand Championship to decide the final winner. Also, by having this kind of digital round, we would like to expand the framework of the competition from next year onward to include not only experienced master pilots, but also younger pilots and those in lower classes of aircraft. I think it would be very exciting if the number of pilots increases and we could have a real competition among them, like a top-town battle”.

AIR RACE X, a 5-dimensional motorsport event that transcends time and space, will aim for sustainable series operation, starting with this digital round, with the goal of holding a real event in 2025. Please stay tuned for further developments.