Collins Aerospace is no stranger to next-generation technology at the airport. The Raytheon subsidiary launched SelfPass in 2019 to help airports better manage growing throngs of travelers. Now the company is developing solutions that will boost today’s traveler confidence and tomorrow’s travel capacity in as many airports as possible, starting with a wireless adapter that gives smartphones the ability to control common-use kiosks.
As the typical cacophonous buzz of activity at airports around the world gave way to a hush in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Christopher Forrest, VP, Global Airport Systems at Collins Aerospace, experienced what he called the busiest period of his career. Traveler expectations transformed at a breakneck pace, and the company initiated accelerated product-launch processes to come up with solutions that address the new normal.
Contactless technology at the airport has been a means of addressing the projected growth in passengers without building new or bigger terminals – a faster journey through the airport means more travelers processed. In the COVID-19 era, the technology has the vital added benefit of keeping travelers safe. The less physical interaction travelers have with airport equipment, the more COVID-19 can be kept at bay.
While Collins offers bespoke solutions to clients, it also approaches the market with the intent of offering a “middleware” option that integrates into existing infrastructure via a simple API. Today, it is launching technology that enables travelers to interact with an airport kiosk via their smartphone by scanning a QR code. The company claims that any kiosk can be converted in this manner through a simple software modification. Forrest notes that airlines have launched similar solutions, but the challenge remains with kiosks that are common-use. “Instead of an airline-dedicated solution, it can be an airport-wide solution,” said Forrest. By the end of the year Collins will release an infrared sensor-based version that will allow kiosk inputs via hand motions.
Biometric identification falls under the touchless tech category as well. Collins took inspiration from IATA’s One ID concept of integrated, end-to-end identity management thanks to the recognition of a “token” – a traveler’s face, iris or fingerprint – that is quickly scanned at various checkpoints. The justification for implementing these technologies pre-coronavirus was to address capacity constraints being faced by airports; according to Forrest, it was “a way to get more passengers through the airport than before” while being more secure through the removal of human error. Currently, Collins Aerospace has biometric technology working at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas and for JetBlue at JFK Airport in New York. Biometric trials are being conducted with easyJet between Bristol, England, and Dublin, Ireland.
Airports in a cash crunch don’t need to purchase new biometric gate infrastructure just yet. Collins believes that a camera-on-a-stick apparatus operated by airport staff can perform biometric identification at a fraction of the cost. Regardless of whether customers choose infrastructure made by Collins or not, Forrest again stressed that the company takes a simple and secure API approach to tech integration. Machines scan travelers’ faces to pick up data points, which are more akin to a string of ones and zeros than a JPEG image, and match it against those stored in a specific government database. The process is very quick – one SelfPass client processed 113 passengers boarding an Airbus A321 in just nine minutes. The system can also analyze a masked traveler’s face in most cases.