Iron Man Might Be Your New Baggage Handler and Other Innovations Shaping the Airline Industry
By Sharon Lo, Managing Editor, DTJ & The Source
Trends in transportation—whether new technologies, evolving customer expectations or other innovations—often take shape in the travel industry. Take Uber for example. The company began approximately 11 years ago as an alternative mode of consumer transportation. Now we have Uber moving not just people, but also freight.
The airline industry, in particular, is creating and implementing astonishing new technologies that will likely change how companies operate—not just in the airline industry, but in other modes of transportation and beyond.
Delta’s Remarkable Technology Investments
Delta Airline’s CEO, Ed Bastian, recently delivered a keynote address at CES (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas to discuss new technologies that will likely change the industry.
One such technology Bastian presented was shared flight information screens at airports that are to be tailored to the individual traveler in real-time. The technology allows multiple customers to see personalized content tailored to their unique journey on a single digital screen at the exact same time and in their preferred language.
Speaking of personalization, NDTA member Delta is also working on technology that would allow customers to know not just when their plane is boarding, but when their individual seat is boarding.
If that isn’t enough, Delta will soon employ Iron Man as your baggage handler. That may be a slight exaggeration, but what they are doing is still pretty amazing. During his keynote, Bastian showcased a battery-powered exoskeleton Delta has developed in conjunction with its partner Sarcos Robotics. On the stage, an employee who had been outfitted in the suit appeared to lift a 150-pound barbell as if it was an ordinary grocery bag.
Fuss-Free, Paper-Free, Hyper-Connected Airports
In other airline tech news, a growing number of early-stage facial recognition deployments that aim to screen domestic passengers with little human intervention are rolling out at airports across the country, including at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta (ATL). ATL’s multifaceted facial recognition system and process that scans passengers’ biometrics to verify their identities at various points throughout the airport offers an ultramodern glimpse into document-free but face-scan-enabled travel—as well as the privacy implications that could accompany it.
“The neat thing about what they’re doing in Atlanta is that different players within the airport environment are plugging into the same [Customs and Border Protection]-created backbone—this Traveler Verification Service—to accomplish different identity verification functions throughout the airport,” said Adam Klein, Chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
And, it’s not just US airports that are getting “smarter.” Beijing’s new Daxing International Airport (PKX) is an example of a hyper-connected airport designed for increasing numbers of tech-savvy passengers. AI will be used to simulate scenarios, predict, and prepare.
From bags and cargo to people and pets, increasingly everything in airports will be tracked and constantly mapped, mostly using superfast 5G mobile networks. 5G-connected sensors will track everything from planes and buses to barge trucks and stairs ready for the arrival of a plane. It will be harder to lose your luggage, and it will also assist remote bag drop-off at places like train stations and hotels. On the subject of getting to the hotel—airports of the future will also offer more ways to get you there with air taxis expected to emerge by 2030. Airports will support this innovation by serving as giant flying park-and-ride centers.
Revolutionizing Long-Haul Travel
Another NDTA member Boeing recently completed the maiden flight of its new 777X, the world’s longest and largest twin-engine airliner. The aircraft promises to revolutionize long-haul travel by making flights more fuel-efficient and introduces a unique folding wingtip technology, which makes the aircraft more airport-friendly. The folding wingtips allow the aircraft to operate at the same Code E airport span limit as the smaller A350 and Boeing 777 aircraft.
Passengers can also expect a better cabin environment. The cabins promote passenger wellness with larger windows, special LED lighting options, higher air pressure equivalent to a lower altitude, reduced cabin noise, improved temperature control, improved humidity, and cleaner air.
It’s clear these trends and innovations hold the power to shape how companies, and people in general, operate in the skies and in many other areas.