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Using wearable computing to improve customer service

Published on  07 August by Tim Graham , IT Innovation & Development Manager, Virgin Atlantic Airways
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Wearable computing is a hot topic at the moment. Together with SITA, Virgin Atlantic created a six-week project to test the technology at London Heathrow. It was a small-scale project, using just one pair of Google Glasses and three Sony SmartWatches. But it received a lot of media attention.

We equipped our concierge staff with either Google Glass or a Sony SmartWatch 2, loaded with purpose-built apps written by SITA that integrated with our passenger service system. As business-class passengers arrived at our limo drop-off area, our staff received their information directly on the smart glasses or watch. This allowed them to accept jobs assigned to them, greet the passengers and provide personal assistance.

Our agents had immediate access to the latest information without having to go to a computer. It also cut the need to use radios. Our staff were able to answer questions almost before our passengers could ask them!

Every day, they provided new ideas about how to improve the technology with new features or pieces of information - carrying out security checks, for instance, or providing destination weather forecasts. Other airline operations that can benefit from wearable devices include baggage handling, aircraft maintenance, and passenger check-in and boarding.

Passenger reaction was mostly positive. People were more curious than scared of the technology. There were no Big Brother type concerns because we made clear we were using the technology to access information we already had, not capture new information.

The big question now, of course, is whether wearable technology is mature enough for the workplace. The short answer is: we're getting there. More testing needs to be done, but many of my initial concerns did not materialize. The devices proved to be durable enough for the airport environment 'at least indoors' and using Wi-Fi improved their reliability. Battery life was not an issue because we used the devices on an as-needed basis.

Learn more in my interview in the latest edition of the Air Transport IT Review.

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