Watching the Red Bull Air Race with the HoloLens

By Asavin Wattanajantra

Red Bull is one of the biggest brands in the world. The pioneer in energy drinks has fingers in everything, associating its brand with a huge number of people, teams and events. The scope of its activities is genuinely overwhelming. Red Bull is also innovative, working with a digital agency called REWIND, which among other things, worked with Jaguar on a VR project, as well as Paramount studios for a Ghost in the Shell VR project.

REWIND is also a member of the HoloLens Agency Readiness Partner Program – and the Microsoft HoloLens is key to what REWIND has done with the Red Bull Air Race. One of the most exciting events on its calendar, it's an international competition that involves competitors navigating a plane through a challenging obstacle course. Red Bull had worked with REWIND previously on an Oculus Rift VR project, allowing users to do 360° barrel rolls in a VR plane cockpit. This meant that it had all assets needed for HoloLens production.

In a crowd, the race is very far way – we don’t get close to the planes. It's a sport with lots of complicated rules and high safety standards, arguably better seen on TV, and this is what is key to why Red Bull decided to work with the HoloLens. HoloLens holograms lock in one place, wherever you look, and that’s why REWIND’s work is so effective.

Watching a Red Bull race on the HoloLens

With REWIND’s HoloLens Red Bull Air Race app, you can see a mini version of a plane as a hologram in front of you, where you can explore its speed and power. You can also see a race in front of you from anywhere in the world, with this mini holographic plane flying through the gate pylons that make up a Red Bull Air Race route. With world-scale, you can also land a full-sized plane in your room (if it fits!), complete with its 7m wing span, open the canopy, and peer inside.

However, what’s even more impressive is the ability to use the HoloLens during a live race as the HoloLens user watches on TV. As the race starts, the mini plane in front of the user is driven by telemetry data from the real plane. You can even choose the pilot you want to see race. REWIND also developed an app which can be hooked up to a PC, that allows the HoloLens user to see graphic packages as an overlay on the TV they are watching.

You can also use the HoloLens on location at a Red Bull Air Race, with the user looking in the sky at the planes also seeing the mini plane in front of them.

How REWIND built the HoloLens app

REWIND started by storyboarding and scripting the experience, thinking about the user journey. The agency also created lots of concept art to show Red Bull where it was trying to get to. It also did extensive research on the plane, the routes they flew, and how to work with scale. And with the creation of the holographic experience – all the developers needed was one pylon, one plane, and a map.

REWIND SEO Sol Rogers said, “When you’re making virtual reality, you’re making an entire world where everything you see has to be created and generated. That’s a huge amount of work, but the amazing thing with holograms is that you’re only making an object, person, or character in your world. It’s a much faster development cycle than I was ever expecting.”

REWIND developed the HoloLens app in Unity, pulling together elements like branding, spins and dials, as well as assets – 70,000 polygons for the scene in total.  One aspect of development Rogers remarked on was the need to reduce draw calls and rigged animation – Rogers compared it to the Sony PlayStation 1 games development cycle.

Roger said, “There’s two mobile computers on your head with the HoloLens. There’s one side with the HPU, which is doing all the clever tracking. The CPU and GPU is on the other side of the device. You can play them off, asking one to work a little harder, but what it does is allow the HoloLens to have super-solid tracking where you can push the graphics as hard as you want.

“It’s a whole PC on your head – no wires and connected to the internet. The HoloLens knows every space you take it, because when you turn it on, it builds a geocache, which can be shared with other devices. If you and I both turn on our HoloLens, we see the whole universe.”

“There was also a lot of audio work, using the binary audio engine of the HoloLens. This means that when a plane lands behind the user, it actually feels like it’s flying behind you.”

REWIND has been mentored and evaluated by Microsoft, and is now one of three production partners in the UK. With the HoloLens, we could be seeing the future of live sport, and developers should certainly look at the possibilities.


For more information on the HoloLens, including in-depth development guides and tutorials, visit the developers section of the official HoloLens website.