How hidden technology is making airports more efficient
Tuesday, December 04, 2018
The average visit to an airport to take a flight can take some predictable forms for most passengers; arrive at the parking garage, pass through security screening, visit some concessions, walk to the gate, and ultimately depart. Now, technology behind the scenes is helping to identify ways to make the process more seamless for the passenger, and more profitable for the airport.
A sensing technology known as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is being employed by specialist companies to analyze data on how passengers are using airports.
The technology itself has a background in the automotive industry and can sense speed, height and movement from the position of the sensor. In the software behind it, this data is then aggregated and analyzed to find patterns and understand how the space is being used.
One such company is iinside, based in Anaheim, California. Founded by former Rockwell and NASA engineers who were involved in the early days of GPS, it is working with a number of airports across the country, including Denver, Orlando International, Phoenix Sky Harbor and Austin Bergstrom.
Chief Operational Officer Sam Kamel explained that the company is helping these airports problem solve and answer questions about how passengers are using them, such as, "Where do my passengers go after security?"
Using sensors set up in particular areas, the movement of passengers can be tracked allowing the airport to understand not only how long it takes to traverse certain areas, but also the number of passengers who go on to spend money at concessions, which concessions are most popular, and where pinch points in the layout of the concourses are. Patterns are quickly identified as the sensors "learn" the spaces they are placed in.
Another important question an airport can answer is how much its passengers are worth. Using sensing technology they can understand not only how many visitors spend money within the airport, but also how much time they have to potentially spend.
Kamel explained, "We believe if we can reduce wait times by five minutes and then multiply this by the average spend per minute and the number of passengers per day, we can prove it is worth it."
Airports recognize that they can also benefit their customer airlines by improving the options and ease of use for passengers. Kamel commented, "Airlines are increasingly thinking about passenger experience from start to finish, not just the flight and destination."
Whilst the technology used by companies like iinside can track user behavior in detail, privacy is a big factor.
Cameras are not used, and passenger identities not recorded. It also means the data can be shared for other purposes, like apps which help passengers plan their journeys. Knowing the wait time at security (or the predicted wait time from aggregated data) can determine what time to set off.
Airports are increasingly awakening to the reality that simply doing it well enough is no longer going to work. Those that have been using LiDAR technology for the past few years are finding it is already helping them to do a better job.
There is no off-the-shelf package as every airport is a unique setup. Therefore, the questions to be answered need to be largely determined before a company like iinside can come in and analyze the data and provide value. But once they do, the results are proving to save time and money, and a number of additional hub airports are lined up to begin using the technology over coming months.
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