At this week’s SITA Air Transport IT Summit, SITA Lab used a feed from SITA’s Day of Operations technology to present a new way of visualizing and interact with the airport’s operational data using the HoloLens headset. Image via SITA

APEX Insight: This week, APEX CEO Joe Leader and APEX Media director Maryann Simson attended the SITA Air Transport IT Summit (ATIS) in Brussels. Mixed reality technology was one of the hot topics at the event, in addition to autonomous airport check-in kiosks, biometrics and blockchain technology.

This week APEX CEO Joe Leader and APEX Media director Maryann Simson attended the SITA Air Transport IT Summit (ATIS) in Brussels, along with nearly 500 other delegates from among SITA’s employees, partners, members, vendors and airline and airport customers.

Leader moderated two Wednesday afternoon sessions, which addressed future strategic priorities for aviation and considered trends and technologies that will bring about the digitization of air transport and the complete passenger journey.

SITA Air Transport IT Summit

APEX CEO Joe Leader and panelists from SITA, JetBlue and Unisys discuss airport robotics, self-service and automation. Image: Maryann Simson

 Some relevant themes APEX Media picked up on over the two days of sessions include:

Mixed Reality

The words “mixed reality” were on nearly everyone’s lips at SITA ATIS. For its part, SITA’s innovation division SITA Lab and mixed reality start-up Fracture Reality have been working closely with Microsoft HoloLens to explore potential uses for airlines and airports – for operations, maintenance and training.

For the project, SITA Lab used a feed from SITA’s Day of Operations technology, which is used by Helsinki Airport, and presented a new way to visualize and interact with the airport’s operational data including aircraft movement, passenger movement and retail analytics. Wearing the HoloLens, the operators had a set of screens meshed into a 3-D view of the airport allowing them to correlate events from the data dashboards with an immersive real-time model of the airport.

SITA HoloLens

Image via SITA

The mixed reality conversation was continued on stage, where many of the keynote speakers and panel guests discussed how the technology is poised to re-shape the air transport industry.

Tiffany Misrahi, head of Aviation, Travel and Tourism for the World Economic Forum, stated that her organization sees augmented reality playing a big role in travel inspiration over the next 5–10 years, and Greg Jones, responsible for travel and hospitality markets at Microsoft Corporate, stated in his keynote that SITA’s early work with HoloLens is one of the best practical applications he’s seen insofar as commercial use goes.

Japan Airlines has likewise done testing with HoloLens to see if it can improve the efficiency of MRO operations, and Air New Zealand has even tried the technology with flight crew in the cabin.

Autonomous Machines

KATE SITA

KATE, SITA’s compact, autonomous and mobile airport check-in kiosk. Image via SITA

Have you met KATE yet? SITA created a stir this week when it unveiled a compact, autonomous and mobile airport check-in kiosk called KATE. Using GPS and anti-collision technology, the intelligent kiosk will automatically move to busy or congested areas in the airport as needed, helping to keep passengers flowing through terminals instead of lining up to collect a boarding pass.

In an airport with multiple KATE’s, the machines will communicate with each other through cloud service, identifying congested areas and calling out for backup where and when needed. SITA says this product would prove particularly relevant during periods of disruption – such as weather delays or flight cancellations – where additional kiosks can be moved from landside to airside to check in large numbers of rebooked passengers.  

The trend toward robotics in the airport is one that is growing rapidly, as evidenced by other trial projects like Spencer by KLM or Pepper by EVA Air. While many (including airport/airline labour unions) have their concerns about what the increase in helper robots and autonomous fixtures would mean for human jobs, panelist Maryssa Millers, JetBlue’s director of Digital and Customer Products, suggested instead that having such automated assistance available would free airline staff to engage with passengers in new and more meaningful ways, or upsell products and services.

Biometrics

Last year at this event, SITA unveiled a biometric, single-token identification air travel solution called Smart Path, promising to create a more secure, quicker and less stressful airport experience for passengers. With the ability to integrate with government systems and databases, Smart Path offers a future security process with integrated immigration and border checks. Airports using the modular system would be able implement whole journey identity management into passenger self-service.

At this year’s Summit, biometrics were still heavy on the agenda. SITA has refined the mobile part of the solution, which would allow passengers to “self-create” their biometric token before they even enter the airport. Watch this demo from the event:

In March, Brisbane Airport was announced as the first airport to run a trial of Smart Path, incorporating a secure walk-through experience for passengers at check-ins and boarding gates. APEX Media has also learned that another airport, together with a US-based airline, will soon trial an immigration entry/exit and boarding process using elements of the Smart Path biometric solutions suite.

Blockchain

Does blockchain seem confusing to you? You’re not alone. A lot of people are struggling to wrap their minds around what it is, the mechanics of how it all works, and what it could ultimately mean to air transport.  At ATIS, we caught up with Kevin O’Sullivan, lead engineer at SITA Lab. He didn’t tell us exactly how blockchain works (that’s a conversation for geniuses), but he did give us the most straightforward explanation of blockchain’s value proposition that we’ve heard so far. Have a listen:

Digital Disruption

On Wednesday afternoon, David De Santiago, head of Innovation at Amazon Web Services, took to the stage for a keynote presentation about the breakneck pace of change in the new digital frontier. He warned attendees, the incumbents of the travel industry, of the very real competition they face from “digital wizards” and tech disruptors who have no regard for traditional ways of doing business. This was easily the biggest wake-up call of the event, a spur to action for every delegate and a fantastic speech overall.

You can listen to a few minutes of that wake-up call right here:

Director of APEX Media, Maryann has been covering the airline passenger experience industry for nearly a decade. During that time, she has served as an editor, writer, sales rep, project manager and PR consultant in the #PaxEx space.