Using tech for better airport design

March 06, 2019 16:49
Tech will play an even greater role in improving the passenger experience at airports in the years to come. Photo: HK Airport Authority

When looking at airport development, observers tend to focus on the hardware side of things, such as number of flights, speed of baggage arrival, passengers and runways. But the soft side of an airport is what people most remember: were there good selections for food and drink? Was the airport comfortable? Did the flow from check-in to security and departure go smoothly?

We tend to overlook the role that tech can play in bringing this excellent passenger experience to fruition. It's certainly the wrong approach, given that people tend to fly through airports where they have had the least hassle and the smoothest times.

It's a reason why the Hong Kong Science Park (HKSTP) has been running a “Smart Airport Accelerator” program since October 2018, allowing 11 start-ups to demonstrate how their ideas can change the way that people see airports and indeed help improve Hong Kong’s already stellar airport.

Tech solutions being proposed include the likes of smart transportation, automation technologies, autonomous vehicles, gait analysis technology for security authentication and the application of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons for indoor navigation.

So how can this change the time your average passenger has at the airport? A recent “Smart Airport Acceleration Programme” Demo Day at Science Park showcased just some of the possibilities, with Lambda Sense, RV Automation Technology, PerceptIn, CyPhy Media, and DMS Solutions showing off what they could do.

The result? Well, a vision of future airport applications! Machine Learning capabilities use gait patterns to identify people and offer them premium services at check-in and shops, or in a slight scary way, for security analysis. Not sure I want to be identified for discounts as I buy yet another bottle of duty free booze, but hey, we could see this one having its uses, especially for VIP guests to shops or lounges.

Meanwhile, automated robot solutions to help with everything from moving goods around the airport, to baggage fulfillment and even assisting people who need help to their gates or to baggage claim. Given that airports are busy and hectic, the solutions are basically helping ground staff do their jobs more quickly and effectively, improving the passenger experience and making life easier for already stressed staff.

But how about autonomously moving people across the airport? This would be an amazing way to help people with disabilities get around without making them feel embarrassed, awkward, or just that they are slowing everyone down.

The job is seeing smart tech on the case, with visual perception solutions ranging from IoT-grade robots to low-speed autonomous driving that could see us being ferried around without drivers. The tech can also be applied for smart wheelchairs as well for those who single passengers, meaning greater efficiency.

And while you're waiting for your flight, enjoy all the entertainment and information you need with BLE beacons for indoor navigation, allowing for the activation of Internet of things (IOT) applications. If your flight is delayed, or you are just super early, this could be a great method of accessing all the services around you, especially as we all know how frustrating waiting in an airport can be.

Make all these work well, and Hong Kong’s position in the international aviation market would get that much stronger.

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EJI contributor