Airports have seen a substantial increase in the number of people flying over the last ten years, presenting a wide variety of challenges from security to efficiency. The processing of people, their luggage, as well as the growing requirements for aircraft, has spurred on progress in a number of smart technologies. From artificial intelligence to facial recognition, the airport industry is utilizing some of the most innovative technologies in today’s world. By harnessing new technologies, airports have been able to reduce queues, improve security, and improve passengers’ experience.
One of the technologies we are seeing being trialled and deployed in airports is robotic assistants. The humanoid robots are positioned around the airport terminal assisting passengers with queries and information. By making use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, the robots can process large amounts of data, with real-time updates to enable them to provide the latest information to passengers.
This technology is starting to be used in some select airports but for different functions. Munich Airport in Germany is using robotic assistants primarily for information. The airport’s robotic assistant, Josie Pepper, welcomes passengers, and can provide them with information regarding flight operations, restaurant, and shops.
China, on the other hand, has brought in robotic assistants for security purposes. In China’s Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport, the Anbot has four main functions: intelligent service, emergency management, facial recognition, and patrol. This bot utilizes sound and light signals to dissuade criminals, and if a situation were to get out of control Anbot can give chase at a speed of 11 miles per hour.
Canada is also introducing robotics in the airport industry but not for security or information purposes like China and Germany. At Edmonton International Airport, a robotic falcon named RoBird has been introduced. The robotic Peregrine Falcon is an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) which is used not only to deter birds but can also herd flocks in an alternative direction ensuring birds do not get pulled into the turbines or collide with aircrafts.
Another technology being increasingly harnesses in the airport industry is biometric identification. Biometrics refers to metrics related to an individual’s unique human characteristics such as fingerprints and iris pattern or facial markers which are scanned using facial recognition technology.
Biometric identification adoption is growing due to it being considered potentially more accurate than a picture on a passport. The technology is being developed to reduce the risk of identity fraud, as well as, saving passengers time in check-in and security.
The first U.S. airport to introduce biometric technology was Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Florida. The curb-to-gate biometric terminal uses facial recognition to compare scans of travellers’ faces to a database of verified ID photos curated by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Currently only available with Delta Airlines at this airport, its competitors are also said to be trialling facial recognition technology.
Another airport using biometric technology to increase security and reduce waiting times is Dubai International. The airport has implemented the Smart Tunnel, located in Terminal 3 and currently only available to first-class and business passengers. The Smart Tunnel uses biometric recognition technology to identify each traveller with an iris scan. The Smart Tunnel, which has been in operation since October 2018, has seen over 20,000 pass through it. As a person walks through the Smart Tunnel, they look at a camera that recognizes who they are, and once cleared the passenger is able to board their flight.
Artificial intelligence is seeing increasing adoption in a wide variety of industries, and it is currently being used in numerous aspects of airports, due to its ability to process vast amounts of data and streamline tasks and procedures.
One of the ways artificial intelligence is being introduced in airports is in the CT and X-Ray processes. These AI scanners are capable of distinguishing between non-dangerous items, as well as, objects of concern such as weapons or explosives without passengers having to remove objects such as liquids or laptops from their baggage. Airports such as Los Angeles International Airport and John F. Kennedy Airport are rolling out the AI scanners enhancing airport security.
Another use case for artificial intelligence in airports is in predictive software. The software can take big data, analyzing it to help anticipate needs before they arise. The predictive software can determine when a plane needs maintenance or what type of meals passengers prefer while flying. Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) logistics, a company offering software solutions using AI to optimize delivery and fulfilment, a solutions that can be integrated with airport warehousing to improve shipment management.
Virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri are being used every day but now voice recognition technology is being in airports. Heathrow Airport has introduced the Heathrow skill from Amazon’s Alexa store. All people need to do is download and open the Amazon Alexa app on their smartphone, tap “skills”, search for ‘Heathrow Airport’, enable and then they are all set. Alexa is able to confirm the details of the flight and the most recent status update of it.
Virgin Australia, on the other hand, has introduced a voice check-in through Amazon Alexa. Passengers who have already linked their Velocity membership to Alexa can say, “Alexa, ask Virgin Australia to check me in,” for a seamless check-in. Virgin Australia believes that by utilizing a voice-first technology it will streamline the customer journey. The technology has the potential to reduce check-in times, as well as, enhancing customer experience.
Voice technology is also being introduced behind the scenes in airports too. Voice recognition technology is being brought in as a way of automating air traffic management, increasing efficiency. The heavy use of voice radio communication to convey air traffic control instructions to pilots has long been a complex issue but automatic speech recognition is being trialled as a possible solution. The automatic speech technology can convert human speech into texts, reducing air traffic controllers’ workloads and increasing air traffic management efficiency.
The MALORCA (Machine Learning of Speech Recognition Models for Controller Assistance) project, has been designed as a low-cost solution that adapts voice recognition tools for use at airports or approach areas. The solution automatically learns local acoustic and semantic patterns and controller models from radar and speech data recordings which are then automatically introduced into the automatic speech recognition software.
Blockchain is another trend currently gaining traction in airports. 34% of airports are planning on blockchain research and development by 2021, according to SITA’s 2018 Air Transport IT Insights report.
One of the uses for blockchain in airports is security. The constant stream of data from airports has seen a number of large-scale cybersecurity attacks and blockchain is being explored as a possible solution. The technology, where each record or ‘block’ has its own timestamp, encrypted with credentials in a peer-to-peer relationship, and all the ‘blocks’ are linked to the previous block of data, means that it is more difficult to access all the blocks.
One of the use cases being explored is with smart identity travel, addressing both cybersecurity and privacy concerns. The concept being developed would enable passengers to create a verifiable digital identity on their mobile that contains biometric and other personal data. It would be possible for authorities in any country to scan your face and your device to verify your identity. By using blockchain, no one agency would have to hold the biometrics and personal information, since the data would be stored in a series of blocks using blockchain.
The technology is also being explored for use in digital wallets often used in loyalty programmes. Singapore Airlines is one of the first airlines to launch a blockchain-based loyalty program for frequent customers. The digital wallet, KrisPay, allows Singapore Airlines customers to turn travel miles into units of payment. The units of payment can be used with partner merchants in Singapore. Developed in collaboration with KPMG and Microsoft, the platform not only allows Singapore Airlines customers to use miles in their KrisFlyer account, but it allows Singapore Airlines to onboard new partners and reconcile payments using blockchain technology.
The new technologies being implemented in airports are tackling security risks, improving efficiency and enhancing the customer experience. There has been a real drive to fight back at hackers trying to access personal data, and blockchain can potential fight back at security risks. We are seeing a move towards smart identification with the introduction of biometrics and although roll-outs are currently limited, it is predicted that airports will be rolling it out more widely in the future.
Airports are working towards greater automation and we are seeing a variety of use cases, from robotic assistants to help customers access the information they need to artificial intelligence to streamline processes and improving efficiency. There is a need to free up the workload of people, and speech recognition technology will likely play an important part is doing this.
So far, these technologies are producing positive results reducing waiting times, improving security, and enhancing the airport customer experience. The next year is expected to see more trials implementing these technologies and more widespread deployments as we delve further into the potential for these technologies.