Overhead Bids: Technology Opens the Door for More Efficient Bin Storage


The SLS Optimus can save up to five minutes during the entry and exit process. Image via SLS Optimus

APEX Insight: New ideas to solve the overhead bin crunch could cut down boarding time. Astronics will demonstrate its Intelligent Bin Solution at APEX EXPO next week.

If you travel with a carry-on, your first priority after boarding is to find a spot in the overhead bins – a free-for-all space, available on a first-come, first-served basis that can result in territorial squabbles as passengers struggle to shuffle, stack and squeeze their belongings into them. But new developments could bring structure and civility to the task of finding a place to park your bag.

Astronics Ballard Technology’s overhead bin sensor solution can detect the size and shape of objects and report on what percentage of the bin is full. On its companion app, a 2-D profile view of the contents can help crew find gaps for coats or other small items. The system has been in development for years as part of a broader exploration of Internet of Things applications in the cabin, and the company is now working toward its installation for an undisclosed customer by the end of the year. “We saw a need on the aircraft to speed up the boarding process by providing real-time information to the flight and gate crew on the status of the bins,” says Jon Neal, president of Astronics Ballard Technology.

“We saw a need … to speed up the boarding process by providing real-time information … on the status of the bins.” – Jon Neal, Astronics Ballard Technology

Zodiac Aerospace is also working on an overhead bin system that uses infrared sensors to scan the volume of luggage. Binsight uses an indicator light on the bin door to show where space is available, and a crew companion app calculates the number of standard roller bags that can fit on board in real time so agents know when to start checking carry-ons. The system could also be connected to an airline’s reservation system, giving travelers the ability to reserve an overhead-bin spot, prior to their flight.

TU Delft students are exploring a similar idea through Europe’s PASSME project, SLS Optimus, which lets customers scan and size their cabin luggage and book bin space on the airline reservation system using an app. Interactive lighting and signage direct passengers to their designated spots. Based on the results of tests conducted in the university’s Aircraft Manufacturing Laboratory, the SLS Optimus can save up to five minutes during the entry and exit process. Multiply this by the cost of airline delays – $64.48 per minute, as estimated by Airlines for America – and the savings that could be brought by overhead-bin sensors start to add up.

“Overhead Bids” was originally published in the 8.4 September/October issue of APEX Experience magazine.