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New technology: Smart decisions


Airports across the world continue to innovate with the trial and adoption of new smart technologies to enhance the passenger experience and operational efficiency, writes Joe Bates.

With costly new terminals and runways usually taking more than a decade to become reality when you factor in the design, planning and environmental approval processes, in many ways airports have been left with little choice but to turn to technology to help them cope with demand.

Indeed, technologies such as biometrics that have enabled e-gates, self service check-in and baggage drop kiosks, Apps offering passengers a more personalised airport experience, virtual assistants and even autonomous vehicles and robots have been around for a number of years.

Arguably, the global pandemic proved the catalyst for the earlier than expected introduction of touchless technologies, and now there is an ever increasing focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and business intelligence solutions through the smart use of data.

This article will highlight a handful of the most high-profile ways smart technology has made an impact at airports in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific this year.

Food serving snackbot at Munich Airport

Munich Airport is no stranger to using robotic technology having trialled a number of devices over the years, the latest of which is a new snackbot from which passengers can buy food and drinks.

Snackbot ‘JEEVES’ – the name is based on a loyal and competent servant from an English novel – offers a selection of chilled soft drinks and snacks that can be purchased via various cashless payment methods such as Apple Pay, Google Pay and all major credit cards.

Originally designed for use in the hotel and healthcare sector, it is believed to be the first time a self-driving robot of this type has been deployed as a ‘snackbot’ at an airport.

Standing just 110 centimetres tall, JEEVES can currently be found at work by the gate area on Levels 4 and 5 in Terminal 2 at Munich Airport.

It stops when passengers come near it or step into its path. A large touchscreen is used to complete the purchase.

The robot developed by the Munich start-up ‘Robotise’ is being tested for one year by Terminal 2 Gesellschaft, a Munich Airport and Lufthansa subsidiary.

The German gateway notes that the use of robotics serves not only to improve logistics but also to research passenger acceptance and create added value for the passenger travel experience.

Autonomous baggage dolly tugs at SIN and CVG

Changi Airport Group (CAG) and Aurrigo International plc have agreed to bring in a fleet of four autonomous all-electric baggage handling vehicles to pilot underwing operations at Changi Airport.

The news follows two years of trials at the Singapore hub of Aurrigo’s Auto-DollyTug that were designed to test its resilience in different conditions including wet weather, heat, humidity, alignment to airport equipment, automated transfer of baggage containers and close quarter operations to aircraft on stand.

It is expected that this new generation of airport baggage handling vehicle, designed, engineered and built in the UK, will arrive in Singapore in the coming months.

Beyond concept validation phase, these vehicles will play a critical role in supporting the turnaround of widebody flights to achieve efficiency savings, environmental improvements and to alleviate labour shortages impacting the global aviation sector.

Aurrigo CEO, Professor David Keene, said: “This is a milestone moment for the aviation sector. Changi Airport Group have been exploring this technology with us since 2020 and the results of significant testing has given them the confidence to place this next contract with us.”

Aurrigo notes that efficiently turning around a widebody flight demands seamless co-ordination among multiple stakeholders. The company’s patented sideways drive system enables the tractor to manoeuvre directly sideways into confined spaces within the baggage hall and amidst ground service equipment (GSE) on the apron.

Elsewhere in the world, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) has become the latest gateway to trial Aurrigo’s autonomous Auto-Dolly baggage tug.

The trial at CVG is being conducted in collaboration with International Airlines Group (IAG) – the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Vueling and LEVEL – and the US airport.

“As one of the fastest-growing passenger and cargo hubs in the US and globally, CVG is always looking for innovative technologies to improve capacity and efficiency,” said CVG CEO, Candace McGraw.

Autonomous wheelchairs

The American Airlines terminals at Los Angeles (LAX) and Miami (MIA) have become the first in the US to introduce autonomous electric wheelchairs designed by WHILL, a pioneering developer of electric mobility devices.

Once a user selects their destination on a touch screen, the autonomous power chair takes over, safely and reliably transporting them to their desired gate.

Their permanent introduction follows successful 18 month trials at LAX and MIA carried out by WHILL and Envoy Air, a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines Group.

According to WHILL, one of the most common challenges affecting airports and airlines today is providing quality service to passengers with reduced mobility. These travellers, it notes, are the fastest growing demographic in the airline industry and airports must adapt to meet their needs.

And with the global population aging and projected to reach 2.1 billion people over 60 by 2050 (Source: WHO), it is argued that the need for more accessibility options for people with reduced mobility is clear.

“We are thrilled to bring cutting-edge technology and innovation to two of American’s busiest hubs,” said Shane Bogni, vice president of business development at WHILL Mobility Services, North America.

“Our autonomous mobility services offer customers increased independence, reduced wait times, and an enhanced customer experience.”

Smart baggage trolleys

Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in India and Munich Airport in Germany are among the airports to have trialled smart baggage trolleys.

Hyderabad’s Internet of Things (IoT) enabled smart baggage trolleys allowed operator, GHIAL, to track them in real-time and ensure that there is always enough available to meet demand.

The airport deployed a LoRa (Long Range) IOT platform for its entire fleet of 3,000 baggage trolleys in a bid to reduce the wait time for available baggage trolleys.

While more recently, Munich Airport trialled smart trollies in Terminal 2 that were equipped with their own tablet, which allowed passengers to enter their flight data manually or scan their boarding card, use a digital map to guide them through the terminal, and provide flight information updates in real time.

The airport’s project team is currently examining whether the trolleys will be incorporated into regular operations.

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