From ro­bot as­sis­tants to aug­mented re­al­ity, Marisa Can­non rounds up the lat­est ad­vances help­ing to smooth your jour­ney through the air­port

Business Traveller (Middle East) - - Front Page -

From ro­bot as­sis­tants to aug­mented re­al­ity, Marisa Can­non rounds up the lat­est ad­vances help­ing to smooth your air­port jour­neys

n the early days of com­mer­cial avi­a­tion, air­ports were small, mod­est fa­cil­i­ties, made up of lit­tle more than an air­field and a soli­tary ter­mi­nal. As air­lines mul­ti­plied and pas­sen­ger numbers soared, air­ports have been driven to meet new lev­els of cus­tomer ser­vice, stream­lin­ing the way pas­sen­gers are pro­cessed and ex­plor­ing new ways of en­ter­tain­ing them while they wait. Here is a round-up of new tech­no­log­i­cal and recre­ational de­vel­op­ments at air­ports around the world.


Pas­sen­gers can be asked to show their doc­u­ments up to five times when trav­el­ling through an air­port. In the past few years, air­ports have be­gun in­tro­duc­ing bio­met­ric de­vices at check­points, speed­ing up the screen­ing process by ver­i­fy­ing a per­son’s iden­tity with a face or fin­ger­print scan.

In March, BA launched a fa­cial recog­ni­tion sys­tem that cap­tures a pas­sen­ger’s fea­tures and al­lows them to board the plane with­out show­ing any doc­u­ments. Cur­rently avail­able for some do­mes­tic flights de­part­ing Heathrow T5, the sys­tem will even­tu­ally be added to in­ter­na­tional routes. Am­s­ter­dam Schiphol and Dutch car­rier KLM launched a sim­i­lar trial ear­lier this year.

In the US, a fin­ger­print or iris scan will soon re­place board­ing passes at 22 ma­jor air­ports, with bio­met­ric lanes launched this year at At­lanta Harts­field-Jack­son, Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional, Min­neapo­lis St Paul, New York JFK and La Guardia.

More am­bi­tious still is Aus­tralia’s “Seam­less Trav­eller” ini­tia­tive, which aims to au­to­mate 90 per cent of screen­ing pro­cesses at the coun­try’s in­ter­na­tional air­ports with no hu­man in­ter­ac­tion by 2020.


This uses lo­ca­tion de­tec­tion trans­mit­ters fit­ted around the air­port to track pas­sen­ger move­ments, send­ing in­for­ma­tion such as flight times and board­ing gates to their phones as they move through the ter­mi­nal. Air­lines have started us­ing bea­cons to no­tify pas­sen­gers of flight changes and sell add-ons such as lounge ac­cess, while air­ports are us­ing it through their smart­phone apps to map routes for lost pas­sen­gers and to tar­get them with ad­ver­tis­ing and retail pro­mo­tions.

Doha’s Ha­mad In­ter­na­tional has in­stalled 700 “iBea­cons” to sup­port its app, in­form­ing pas­sen­gers of their flight sta­tus, bag­gage claim carousel, and time and di­rec­tion to gate, while alert­ing them to of­fers as they walk past shops. In 2015, Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional was one of the first to in­tro­duce bea­con tech­nol­ogy in Asia, pro­vid­ing in­ter­ac­tive maps that guide

pas­sen­gers to check-in coun­ters, pub­lic trans­port points and de­par­ture gates.

In Europe, BA and Vir­gin At­lantic were some of the first air­lines to trial bea­cons at Heathrow as early as 2014, around the same time that Am­s­ter­dam Schiphol be­gan in­stalling some 2,000 bea­cons, which, among other things, help to mon­i­tor and in­form pas­sen­gers of queue wait­ing times at se­cu­rity. In May this year, Gatwick also in­stalled around 2,000 bea­cons across its North and South ter­mi­nals, which sup­port an aug­mented re­al­ity route-plan­ner that can be used through the cam­era on a smart­phone.


Ro­botic cus­tomer ser­vice agents are no longer a thing of the fu­ture, with many air­ports us­ing them to check in pas­sen­gers and pro­vide use­ful in­for­ma­tion such as lo­cal ex­change rates and di­rec­tions.

Last year, KLM tri­alled its Spencer ro­bot, which can scan board­ing passes and guide lost trav­ellers around Schiphol. At Tokyo Haneda, JAL tested its hu­manoid NAO ro­bot, which could in­form pas­sen­gers (in three lan­guages) about the weather at their des­ti­na­tion as well as gate lo­ca­tions and open­ing times, while tech gi­ant Hi­tachi tri­alled a roller-skat­ing ro­bot guide. Seoul In­cheon is tri­alling the use of 15 ro­bots – to clean floors, han­dle bag­gage and pro­vide di­rec­tions. The air­port plans for additional ro­bots to even­tu­ally per­form se­cu­rity checks and serve food and drink in air­port lounges.


Air­port in­no­va­tions aren’t just re­stricted to pas­sen­ger pro­cess­ing. Gym fa­cil­i­ties are grow­ing in de­mand as trav­ellers look to make bet­ter use of their time in tran­sit. Ha­mad’s Vi­tal­ity Well­be­ing and Fit­ness Cen­tre of­fers a 25-me­tre

Left: Gatwick’s aug­mented re­al­ity route plan­ner

Main: KLM’s ro­bot, Spencer, at Am­s­ter­dam Schiphol

Above: BA’s bio­met­ric gates at Heathrow T5

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