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Derek spearheads projects together with a team of passionate innovators in the SITA Lab, SITA's innovation arm focused on addressing the needs of the air transport industry in the next three to five years.

Collaboration is fundamental to SITA's approach to innovation. The method includes partnering and co-innovating with airline, airport, and border customers, proven innovative companies, early-stage ventures, and universities through proofs-of-concept (PoCs), trials, and pilot projects.

What kind of projects have you been working on recently?

At the SITA Lab, we engage with industry players to explore the potential of emerging technologies in the next three to five years. Of course, not all our research will always lead to a new SITA solution. Our approach is different from the SITA portfolio teams. They address industry problems with today's deployable technology. We focus on trials, PoCs, and other research projects that explore new and emerging technologies across the air transport journey, supply chains, and operations, including biometrics for digital identity, artificial intelligence, computer vision, machine learning, blockchain,  augmented reality, Internet of Things and digital health credentials.

What results do you get from these PoCs?

Since the SITA Lab's inception in 2008, we've carried out more than 80 co-innovation projects. We've worked with airlines, airports, governments, and industry bodies across the world. Co-innovations include trials and PoCs for various use cases that address pressing industry challenges and future requirements. They complement innovation in SITA's portfolio teams. The R&D carried out by the SITA Lab resulted in 12 new products and over 20 start-up incubations. More are in the pipeline.

What has been your most rewarding Lab project and why?

We prefer to leave the four walls of our Lab. We love to partner with our customers to run trials in real-life environments with hurdles, for example, in the airport or on the aircraft.

One of our recent projects where we focused on safety and data privacy took us to Aruba. SITA's Aruba trial enabled seamless travel to this beautiful island.

Using the Aruba Health App, visitors to the island who provided the required health tests to the Aruba government were issued a unique trusted traveler credential using blockchain technology. This credential was then verified by hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues through the unique QR code on a visitor's mobile device without sharing any private data. The digital credential also enabled the Aruba government to restrict visitors from leaving their hotel rooms until they had received a negative PCR test result.

The wow factor for us was that the trial participants loved the approach and expressed their satisfaction. The process of creating efficiencies and convenience through technology while also protecting the privacy of passengers and eliminating liability fraud was rewarding.

What projects are helping address the challenges of COVID-19 and industry recovery?

Blockchain is a key focus for the Lab team as it has the potential to transform our industry in the seamless and secure way we envision. The secure exchange of digital health credentials among health authorities, providers, governments, airlines, and airports is a critical goal for the travel industry as it recovers. As part of the SITA Lab's Digital Identity research program, which began in 2016, we accelerated work last year on digitally verifiable health credentials and tested the technology in Aruba. We have demonstrated that health data can be successfully exchanged through an ecosystem, in a fully decentralized way, and without giving up data privacy.

I've also enjoyed addressing the long-standing industry challenge of securely verifying electronic pilot licenses offline, especially since COVID-19 has intensified problems in processing license issuance or renewal. Working together with aviation regulator ICAO, we've developed a prototype based on a digital wallet and blockchain technology to digitize pilot licenses and demonstrate offline verification in a decentralized way. As a result, the issuing of digital pilot licenses for international flights is one step closer.   

What do you love most about your role in the SITA Lab?

Creating "Aha!" moments. We paint concepts and visions of how to transform business and operations to optimize the traveler experience. Through experimentation with technology, we learn about its capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, and maturity. The Aha! moment is an instant of sudden insight or discovery. It's the pivotal moment when our customers or ourselves realize the actual value and potential of a new technology. It often goes far beyond just the technical functions and capabilities of the technology. We don't always know this when starting a project, or we go in with narrower expectations of what is possible. Experimenting with my team in the Lab and measuring the impact of our efforts on real industry challenges is why I love coming to work each morning.

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