More gadgets in the front line

The air transport industry is entering a whole new world as 'gadgets' begin to reach the front line of passenger services and data collection.

Wearable apps and more

Not so long ago, mobile apps implied smartphones. Now there’s a whole slew of smart gadgets with the potential to exploit apps – from smartwatches to smartglasses, Fitbits to smart bands – even carry-on luggage that weighs itself. And we’re hearing about more and more being developed every day.

With so many gadgets available to make the passenger journey easier, and so many passengers eager to use these gadgets, how can the air transport industry be expected to keep up?

And how, in the new world of connected travelers, can airlines and airports effectively deploy gadgets to tap into the available data, unlock it, and make it easy to consume?

“The SITA Lab’s been asking precisely these questions – on the back of considerable research into the use of wearable technology for the air transport industry,” says Renaud Irminger, Head of SITA Lab.

Insights

The potential is huge. Already, by linking passengers’ mobile and wearable devices into the industry’s IT infrastructure, airports and airlines are beginning to gain unprecedented insights into passenger flow and behavior.

“Using application programming interfaces (APIs) that hook into the apps in workers’ and passengers’ devices and gadgets, the air transport industry will get closer than ever to the elusive ‘personalized journey’ we’ve been talking about for years,” says Irminger.

The implications will touch everything from sales and customer service to operations and asset management.

For example, business intelligence tools that extract data in real-time using APIs mean that airlines and airports can move from passively reacting to events (queues at check-in or security) to proactively influencing passengers (avoiding queues before they occur).

The passenger benefits are significant too. “By hooking into the industry’s IT ecosystem via their device or gadget of choice – in the air and on the ground – passengers can streamline their journeys,” says Irminger.

“They can enjoy a personalized, à la carte experience instead of the current ‘one size fits all'.”

Reducing stress

I’m wearing my Apple Watch and I’ve got my boarding pass on here. With this technology, now everything’s on [the Apple Watch] departure time, your gate it really takes a lot of stress out of traveling. 

Robin Hayes, CEO, JetBlue

A smartwatch first

SITA’s APIs for airlines and airports, at www.developer.aero, include functionality for beacons, baggage tracking, boarding passes and many more. As technology emerges, they’ll enable increasing use of gadgets along the journey.

Last year saw a significant move with SITA’s developer.aero providing boarding passes for smartwatches via API. This gives airlines the ability to offer tech-savvy passengers the chance to board flights with a mere flick of their wrist and scan of their smartwatch.

“Predictions for the take off of smartwatches are strong,” says Irminger. “They will become indispensable in years to come, according to the SmartWatch Group. SITA has now made it possible for airlines to be ready for boarding as these wearable tech devices go mainstream.

“Because boarding passes are delivered via API, a simple mark up in the code enables Google Now operation and allows smartwatches to be a useful travel tool.”

In this scenario, simple alerts can remind passengers of their flight at the appropriate time and location. A quick swipe reveals the boarding pass and a second swipe displays the barcode allowing the passenger to get through the airport checkpoints and board the plane.

“This marked the first step to enable passengers to use their own wearable devices as they make their way through the airport,” adds Irminger.

Many channels

The Boarding Pass API, which delivers boarding passes to passengers after they check in online, is embracing a whole host of gadgets and apps, enabling airlines to deliver boarding passes to many different channels using a single service.

That includes traditional ‘print at home’ boarding pass, mobile web, native airline app, Evernote, Apple Passbook, Google Now, Google Wallet, Samsung Wallet, NFC, and more. As e-wallet solutions continue to emerge, it will expand to accommodate them too.

Boarding passes

Boarding passes can be created for different channels using a single service, including traditional ‘print at home’, mobile web, native airline app, Evernote, Apple Passbook, Google Now, Google Wallet, Samsung Wallet, NFC, and more. 

Apple Watch

Major airlines such as JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic are already users of SITA’s Boarding Pass API.

Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue recently appeared on CNBC television touting the conveniences that technology can provide while traveling.

With the help of SITA’s Boarding Pass API, Hayes said he can store his boarding pass on his Apple Watch and speed through the airport with a flick of his wrist.

“I’m wearing my Apple Watch … and I’ve got my boarding pass on here. You know, one of the frustrating things about going to an airport is you’ve got monitors, announcements, gate changes; it’s one of the most stressful parts of the travel experience.

“With this technology, now everything’s on [the Apple Watch] – departure time, your gate – it really takes a lot of stress out of traveling.”

Across the journey

Passenger and workforce gadgets will become ever more prevalent across the journey, from booking and check-in to baggage collection at final destination – and everywhere in between.

The linchpins, APIs, are key to exploiting these emerging and distributive ‘gadget technologies’, enabling the creation of new touchpoints between passengers and the industry’s IT infrastructure.

Because APIs empower developers to build travel apps that unlock swathes of useful and critical travel data, they’ll help the industry to create a richer passenger experience, including more personalized offerings and services.

Planning

We’ll see more use of mobile, smartwatch, Google Now and other technologies at the travel planning stages of people’s trips. SITA’s iTravel® API, for example, allows developers to create a multitude of shopping experiences with further potential to explore across tablets, mobile phones, desktops, smartglasses, smartwatches and more.

Passengers can book and pay for flights, check-in, trace baggage, and check airline and flight information on any self-service platform including web, mobile, social media, or any other emerging technology.

Check-in APIs are used to drive consumer self-service apps, kiosk apps, and roaming airport staff apps, performing on an ever wider array of platforms.

At the airport

The airport experience will be driven by the use of proximity technologies like beacons (see 'Gateway to the Internet of Things'), combining with smart devices to smooth passenger flow, keeping passengers constantly informed and guided on their way through interactive maps, for instance.

Smartglasses and smartwatches will make more appearances as a part of the airport worker’s armory, exploring the great potential of these devices’ in the areas of passenger facilitation and security.

“SITA has led the way with some much publicized Google Glass and Sony SmartWatch trials,” says Irminger. “A key benefit for airport staff is that Smartglasses are hands-free, enabling a new way of working.”

Working with SITA, Copenhagen was the world’s first airport to trial Google Glass for improved passenger experience, citing benefits for passengers and service staff.

Virgin Atlantic, in the meantime, became the world’s first airline to trial Google Glass and a Sony SmartWatch 2, with the aim of enhancing the passenger experience and improving efficiency. Both devices were integrated to a purpose-built dispatch app created by SITA and Virgin Atlantic’s passenger service system.

So successful was the trial that it won a Smart Technology Award from The Wearables 2014, with Virgin Atlantic adopting smartglasses in its processes.

Flight and arrivals

In-flight, as aircraft become more connected, we’ll see a big increase in the number of devices in use by passengers, pilots and cabin crew (see 'A nose-to-tail proposition'), while on arrivals they’ll be deployed in areas such as baggage.

SITA’s BagJourney is a prime example of giving passengers control to trace the status of their bags using web-based self-service facilities or their devices. It also provides immediate information to agents and ground handlers, enabling them to better manage delayed or lost baggage situations. (See 'Let's make baggage smarter').

“We continue to pioneer with more trials of wearables and other technologies,” concludes Irminger.

“In doing this, we’ll also continue to empower developers in their quest to create the latest travel app for passengers, flight crews and airport personnel, be it for smartphone, tablet, smartwatch, smartglasses or whatever other platform of choice.”

SITA Lab shows street cred

SITA Lab took part in the American Airlines Wearable World Hackathon last year with its Common Use Beacon Registry API.

Developers used the registry to enable their apps to discover beacons and get meta-data about the beacons deployed at the event (see 'Gateway to the Internet of Things').

The Hackathon was the perfect venue for developer teams from around the world to congregate and hack their way through a myriad of hardware and API offerings, creating in the process some exciting new prototypes for the ‘connected traveler’.

The winning app was developed by the UsTwo team (creators of Monument Valley), using SITA’s Beacon API to push flight information, boarding passes and other notifications to devices (mobile or smartwatch) to help get passengers to the plane on time.

It could also push information to the device of family, friends or another person to enable them to monitor where you are in your travels. When  you’re in-flight, they'll be able to follow your plane's location.

SITA awarded a special prize of a Google Glass to Team Flux for its innovative use of the Common Use Beacon Registry.

The Flux team employed Google Glass, Android SDK and iBeacon technology to show how technologies can work together to assist travelers at every stage of their journey, primarily through iBeacon triggered messages and other core location features.

SITA Lab has also been an award winner at Tnooz THack events.

Subscribe to the Air Transport IT Review