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Joe Bates takes a closer look at some of the most innovative IT stories to have made headlines across the globe in the first half of 2022.

Duty calls for assistance robots

Bengaluru-Kempegowda in India and Christchurch in New Zealand have become the latest airports to embrace humanoid technology – the former on a trial basis and the latter permanently.

Both have enlisted the help of Pepper, the AI-driven assistant robot to help passengers with routine enquiries, hopefully enhancing the airport experience for all they encounter.

In the case of Kempegowda, the gateway notes that 10 robots are currently on trial and being deployed to help guide passengers through the airport and answer basic queries.

The airport has partnered with AI and robotics specialist, Artiligent Solutions Pvt Ltd, to model the robots along with creating a customised passenger services software.

The default language of communication will be English, with additional regional and international languages in the offing.

Jayaraj Shanmugam, chief operating officer of Kempegowda operator, BIAL, said that the airport prides itself on being a trendsetter when it comes to blending innovation and providing a seamless experience to passengers.

“Pre-empting passenger requirements and complementing new-age technology with a focused customer-centric team approach has been our winning combination,” said Shanmugam.

“These smart robots are the latest addition to our offering which shall further boost our concentrated endeavour to provide exceptional customer service.”

Meanwhile in New Zealand, Christchurch Airport has decided to locate its own humanoid member of staff (pictured above) ahead of the security screening area for domestic flights so that it can help put passengers at ease before passing through security.

Craig Dunstan, operator CIAL’s manager for park to plane customer experience, said: “Our humanoid robot Pepper interacts beautifully to help improve our passenger journey.

“Following a successful trial, Pepper is routinely located at the front of domestic Aviation Security Screening to educate passengers on the process ahead.

“What we have found is that not only is the message helpful, but passengers naturally enjoy the rather fun interaction and [welcome] distraction that Pepper offers, at what can be a pressure-point for many.

“Working alongside people counting technology to help advise the queue processing time, this area is operating more efficiently than ever to ensure passenger safety. It is a great team effort to make things even better for our customers.”

Pepper stands just 120cm tall and first appeared at the airport in mid-2019. It is said to be able to recognise faces and basic human emotions, respond to requests made on the touch screen on its chest, hold a conversation and entertain as well as inform.

Not surprisingly, children passing through the airport find the robot fascinating and pose for photos with it, or join other children-focused activities in the terminal.

Transforming turnaround times at Gatwick

London’s Gatwick Airport believes that it has developed a new handheld digital platform that will transform the efficiency of aircraft turnarounds, reducing delays and unnecessary fuel burn on the ground.

Its AirTurn platform allows ground handlers to update air traffic controllers about changes to the turn process – in real time, direct from the apron.

This means that information can be communicated more quickly on changes to turn events – such as updates on baggage loading, refuelling or other aircraft preparations – giving the control tower a more accurate, real-time departure or Target Off-Block Time (TOBT) to feed into the airport’s overall flying programme.

Without the system, changes to aircraft turn events are updated through paperwork and radio communications – sometimes between several individuals at different locations – before being recorded into the system and communicated to the control tower and subsequently EUROCONTROL.

The AirTurn platform is accessed directly through Gatwick’s Community App, which is already widely used by ground handling staff across the airport. It is also used by many other airports worldwide, including airports in VINCI Airports global network, and therefore has the potential to be rolled out across many other gateways.

The global airport operator, which holds a controlling 50.01% stake in Gatwick, notes that the innovation is part of its strategy to improve airport infrastructure and management, including the dissemination of innovative ideas across its network of 53 airports in 12 countries.

It states that “Gatwick is an innovation centre of excellence for VINCI Airports and AirTurn is the latest in a number of innovative solutions pioneered by the airport that are now used in other airports in the VINCI Airports network, including the Airport Community App”.

Both AirTurn and the Airport Community App were developed in partnership with AirportLabs.

Gatwick’s innovation and commercial IT manager, Karl Sulsh, said: “We are delighted to offer our new AirTurn platform more widely to our partners at Gatwick Airport, in what is a step forward in reducing delays and improving on-time performance.

“We created the platform after listening to our ground handlers and have delivered a digital solution that improves communication and provides fast, accurate information from the airfield in real time.”

Beating the security queues at JFK’s Terminal 4

CLEAR and JFKIAT, the operator of Terminal 4 at John F Kennedy International Airport, have announced the launch of a free virtual queuing programme at Terminal 4.

JFK T4 Reserve powered by CLEAR allows travellers using the terminal to plan ahead and reserve a dedicated security lane time slot – giving them a more predictable and stress-free travel experience.

“This innovative programme will help to ensure that we are continuing to provide an efficient, best-in-class experience for all travelling through Terminal 4,” said Roel Huinink, president and CEO of JFKIAT.

“We are committed to integrating cutting-edge technologies that will bolster our operations, and we are proud to collaborate with CLEAR to introduce this initiative to our customers.”

Reservations can be made online up to 72 hours in advance of a flight’s scheduled departure with available times based on the passenger’s selected flight; slots are available starting at least 60 minutes before domestic flights and at least 75 minutes before international flights.

The dedicated JFK Reserve security entry point is open between 5am and 10am – the security checkpoint’s busiest time.

CLEAR first lauched its free checkpoint reservation system at Orlando International Airport (MCO) in October 2021. Other North American gateways airports offering Reserve include Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), and Calgary International Airport (YYC).

Smart baggage solution at Zurich Airport

AirPortr, the digital platform and provider of smart baggage management solutions, has expanded its successful partnership with Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) and its strategic collaboration with Swissport to offer innovative new baggage services at Zurich Airport, following a successful trial phase at Geneva Airport.

It is claimed that “underpinned by state-of-the-art, customer-centric technology, the smart baggage offering is the first of its kind, streamlining the customer journey for departing passengers by allowing them to travel to the airport baggage-free – bypassing terminal congestion and potential queues at check-in – and head straight to security”.

On arrival, passengers can avoid the wait for their bags at the carousel after landing, instead heading straight to their final destination, baggage-free. 

According to Airportr, the implementation of the baggage offering creates a seamless, contact-free doorstep to destination and back again service and, it notes, creates new opportunities for passengers to travel to and from the airport via public transport, driving more sustainable, intermodal travel.

Randel Darby, founder and CEO of AirPortr, said: “The launch of this new offering with our partners Swissport, SWISS and SBB represents a major progressive step toward enabling intermodal journeys for travellers and world class fly-rail transport systems of the future.

“Not only will it remove major pain points currently experienced by departing and arriving passengers, but it will also reduce queuing in the terminal, particularly at peak times. This creates compelling benefits for airlines and airport operators, helping them to realise tangible operational efficiencies, improve the customer experience and meet their sustainability targets.”

AA2000 turns to Veovo to improve operations and passenger flows

Argentina’s two busiest airports, Buenos Aires’ Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP) and Aeropuerto Internacional Ezeiza (EZE), have implemented Veovo’s Passenger Predictability solution to optimise operations and improve passenger flows.

The solution, adopted by airport operator Argentina 2000 (AA2000) earlier this year, is expected to reduce queues and improve the efficiency of security, immigration, baggage hall and border control operations at each airport.

The AI-powered cloud software measures passenger movement and offers live and predictive insight into customer behaviour. By aggregating data from multiple sensors and data sources, the analytics platform delivers valuable metrics such as occupancy, predicted wait times and lane productivity.

This, according to Veovo, allows airports and their partners to take more informed decisions and make passenger processing as efficient and smooth as possible.

Thanks to the integration with live queue wait-time information displays and airport apps, passengers have accurate information to help them take control of their journey and reduce stress.

AA2000’s general manager for Ezeiza, Sebastián Villar Guarino, said: “This technology allows Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 to have complete passenger flow visibility, helping us make informed decisions to deliver a better-quality passenger experience. This is a key step in the AA2000 strategy to develop a smart and digital airport.”

Aeroparque Jorge Newbery and Aeropuerto Internacional Ezeiza join global gateways such as New York JFK, Amsterdam Schiphol, Auckland and London Gatwick in adopting Veovo’s flow analytics solutions.

Lift-off for touchless elevators in Chongqing

Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport in western China is to install voice and hand gesture recognition technology in 100 elevators in the gateway’s new Terminal 3B to eliminate the need for users to make contact with any buttons or public surfaces.

Supplied by TK Elevator, the new technology will allow passengers to call and operate the elevator through hand gestures and voice commands. This, it says, will help avoid physical interaction with elevator surfaces and buttons that are prone to attracting viruses and bacteria.

“New ideas are essential to raising transportation hubs to new levels of efficiency,” says Jürgen Böhler, CEO of TK Elevator Asia Pacific. “As a mobility partner, we pride ourself on understanding and quickly responding to the needs of customers and passengers alike. Our customised elevator operating solutions for the airport in Chongqing further underlines this strength.”

The new elevators are in addition to more than 300 previously installed at Chongqing Jiangbei by TK Elevator.

New Seamless Kiosk

Vision-Box has unveiled its latest solution built upon a new generation of biometric technology, which it believes will help transform the travel experience – the Seamless Kiosk.

It believes that the new kiosk will provide an “exceptional user experience through its biometric and biographic capture performance”, which it states will increase the passenger handling process speed with an accessible design and a smart passenger guide system, based on artificial intelligence that better helps any user to follow the instructions intuitively with a new immersive camera system.

The kiosk is equipped with an audible and highly tactile assistive interface for navigation and selection of screen-based content and braille signs to support passengers with impaired vision, an inability to read, restricted reach, or limited dexterity. It is also compliant with Europe, United States and Canada’s disability acts.

With a small footprint, Vision-Box’s latest solution combines the newest Common Use Self-Service (CUSS) 2.0 platform and Border Control processing, including Entry/Exit System (EES) requirements.

Alessandro Minucci, Vision-Box’s head of product, called the Seamless Kiosk a “a truly nimble device”, which he believes ensures the best seamless experience, with the highest accuracy and speed via a biometric-by-design solution.

SITA and Alstef unveil Swift Drop

SITA has signed a partnership agreement with Alstef Group, an established baggage handling specialist, to launch Swift Drop, a new self-bag drop solution that it claims “significantly speeds up the experience of checking your own bag”.

Mexico City’s brand new Felipe Ángeles International Airport, opened in late March, has become the first airport globally to install 20 Swift Drop units.

According to its creators, “the fast, intuitive interface means passengers can quickly check their bags, avoiding long queues at traditional check-in points”.

Passengers simply print their own bag tags without need for assistance and load their baggage directly onto the accessible conveyor.

Part of SITA’s Smart Path passenger processing portfolio, Swift Drop, essentially comprises SITA’s TS6 Kiosk and Alstef Group’s fully integrated bag processing solution. Advanced camera tag-reading technology should ensure that baggage will be processed faster, with an average first-time tag read rate of 95%.

Drew Griffiths, head of SITA AT AIRPORTS, said: “The partnership with Alstef Group – leveraging their significant baggage handling portfolio – enriches our end-to-end offering with a fast, convenient, and reliable self-bag drop solution. This solution has the added benefit of being easily biometrically enabled.”

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