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Wearables are here to stay

Published on  08 October by Renaud Irminger , Director, SITA Lab
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After SITA Lab participated in two initiatives that won FTE Awards in 2014 – “Best Passenger Assistance Initiative” for the groundbreaking adoption of Google Glass and Sony SmartWatch by Virgin Atlantic, and “Best Mobile Technology Initiative” for the rollout of iBeacons at Dallas Forth Worth with American Airlines – I was thrilled to participate in the 10th anniversary of Future Travel Experience Global in Las Vegas a few weeks ago.

I chaired one session, “Beacons & Wearable Technology Symposium,” and I participated in the “Inflight Entertainment & Connectivity” group.

Both sessions provided enough information to cover a year’s worth of blog posts, but I’d like to focus here on wearables in particular.

First and foremost, it’s important we all understand that wearables are here to stay.

Global retail revenue from wearables will reach US$ 53.2 billion by 2019 – compared to “just” $4.5 billion last year*.

Smart glasses received a lot of hype last year. This year, organizations are experimenting with ROI and business cases. Next year, significant growth is forecasted.

Due to Apple Watch, smartwatches are expected to replace fitness wearables as the most purchased wearable device by 2017.

And we’re seeing emerging items such as hololens and smart clothing starting to gain traction in the market as well.

So, what does this mean for the air transport industry?

This is the most-asked question in SITA Lab. In order to answer it, we explored use cases and contemplated how the technology can scale to benefit our industry.

Most airlines jumped on the Apple Watch and then expanded, starting with United and other major airlines. Airports  were also quick to embrace Apple Watch, and Geneva Airport used smartwatches to push information about parking and flight updates to their passengers that they could easily consult while driving to the airport.

On the staff side, several airports and airlines are developing applications in the operational area. Last year we partnered with Virgin Atlantic in the trialing of their SithSense application on a Sony Smartwatch 2.

This year, we’ve partnered with Quebec City Jean Lesage International Airport (YQB) to push more important alerts to its staff from the SITA Airport Management solution. As we all know, duty managers are very busy with emails, alerts, solicitations, etc. They don’t have the time to process and act on every message they receive. But a conflict with gate allocation is one of their most critical situations – so we enabled an alert that notified the managers of such a scenario.

In order to process passengers where there was an overlap in gate stands, the airport reserved Apple Watches. This was trialed to test the usefulness and staff adoption, and it was integrated with the SITA Airport Management System.

The upside of wearables is just beginning to be fully known. When combined with other emerging technologies such as biometrics, the promise for advanced passenger use cases is astronomical. And it will continue to benefit staff with hands-free operations, real-time alerting, and other vital functions.

(*Juniper Research, “Smart Wearable Devices: Fitness, Glasses, Watches, Multimedia, Clothing, Jewelry, Healthcare & Enterprise 2014-2019”, Nov 2014)

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