Aside from the folks who have a genuine fear of actual flying, the most significant stress factor at the airport is clearly the looming anxiety of dealing with the airport. And let’s not forget the tremendous volume of people who travel on the holidays. Last year, a record 45.7 million flew during the holidays, and experts anticipate even more volume this year.

First, there’s the getting there: do you tap your resource of friends, do you just call an Uber or Lyft? Once you get to the airport, you join the first queue to check in at the counter. If your seats aren’t assigned, you fret that you’re going to end up with a middle seat. If you have them, you check in bags, and hope you haven’t loaded them to more than the weight limit. Before you head to the gate, you have to deal with the TSA. Most of you won’t get pulled aside for that “additional” pat down, but whatever the case, few are immune to the potential nightmares of the airport.

SEE: Special report: Tech and the future of transportation (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

But your tenure at the airport may be getting considerably easier. Hitachi Vantara Technology wants to alleviate airport pain. The new tech combines computer video and laser-based radar-like LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology with data analytics, and machine-learning tools to:

  • Streamline check-in and security lines
  • Achieve better on-time performance (flights departing on time)
  • Reduce flight taxiing and circling for more efficient, sustainable operations
  • Proactively manage overhead luggage space on aircraft
  • Provide travelers with more time to go shopping or to relax in the lounge

The new tech impacts both consumer travel and how airlines/airports do business, which is good news to the nearly 50 million Americans expected to travel worldwide during the holiday season. The leading cause of delay may be connecting flights with connecting bags, and, of course, the aforementioned security.

The tech is being used by a major US airline that Hitachi cannot name. “Hitachi is currently helping airport customers and actively pursuing additional projects globally in the smart airports space,” said Justin Bean, global director of Smart Spaces Marketing at Hitachi Vantara. “We start with the outcomes that the airport or airline is trying to achieve, then back into the technology that will help deliver that outcome. We show them examples of use cases we’ve deployed in other areas to help them understand what’s possible with new innovations. Generally they want to maximize safety, improve efficiency of operations, and enhance the traveler experience, while helping their in-terminal retailers thrive.” Hitachi Vantara anticipates implementing the tech at more US airports in time for the 2020 holiday season. Bean added, “Various airports are starting with different use cases, from managing traffic at the curbside, to queue analysis and management.”

The Lumada Video Insights (LVI) solution uses LiDAR (light detection and ranging) to produce a 3D visual model of the airport, and the movement of travelers, equipment and luggage in real time. It also applies video analytics tools to analyze the movement of travelers and luggage throughout an airport, but maintains passenger privacy and does not capture any personally identifiable information.

By comparing the actual movement of travelers to ideal models will help airline and airport staff identify issues and move to streamline passengers’ travel experiences, from check in to safely in their seat, baggage stowed.

“The process of solving airport-specific challenges started with a value engineering workshop with our Hitachi team and the end customers,” Bean said. “Through this we were able to identify what pain points they have, and what challenges, if solved, would have the most positive impact on the passenger experience, and the operations of the airlines or airports. Starting with the most impactful areas helps us to deploy a solution that will bring the most value for the airlines, airports, and the passengers they serve. In this case targeting shorter wait times, better on-time performance, and improving sustainability. The workshopping itself can take from one day to several days, but then depending on the complexity and scale of the solution, it is deployed in one or a few areas first to demonstrate proof of value, then deployed more widely.”

LVI can help airlines and airports improve traveler experiences including:

  1. Streamline check-in and security lines. LVI provides “long line alerts” for security checkpoints and check-in counters, used to alert travelers to average wait times before they arrive at the airport, and help airlines ensure they are appropriately staffing lines to improve customer service.
  2. Provide travelers with more time to shop or relax in the lounge. Congestion has a big impact on airport retailers’ bottom lines. A study by air transport company SITA found that shopping in airports is an estimated annual global spend of $22 billion, suggesting airports should focus efforts on incentivizing passengers to spend more time in their commercial areas. LVI’s congestion alerts can help airports and airlines to get passengers through check-in and security faster, so they can enjoy airport amenities before hopping on their flights, and also be used in lounges and retail areas at the airport to help retailers identify when to increase or reallocate staffing, and analyze the movement of travelers through retail areas to identify popular retail sales items, so they can put them closer to entrances or stock more of them.
  3. Proactively manage overhead luggage space on aircraft. Hitachi Vantara’s tech can be used to count and monitor the size and volume of baggage in a boarding area before passengers make their way onto the plane. This helps prevent the frustrating situation where passengers who have already boarded an aircraft with their carry-on luggage find overhead bins full, and have to return luggage to the front of the aircraft, potentially delaying departures.
  4. Achieve better on-time performance and reduce aviation fuel consumption. As much as 4.5% of commercial jet-fuel consumption has been attributed to inefficiencies at the terminal. Moving passengers more smoothly through the airport may not only increase customer satisfaction but can also contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of the airline industry.

And with the potential and burgeoning success at airports, Bean said they are looking to other industries. “The solution is flexible to meet the needs of many industries, and has been deployed to provide a variety of outcomes for smart cities, retail, campuses, manufacturing, oil and gas, and more,” Bean said. “Our solution architects are able to take the customer’s outcomes, KPIs, and desired metrics into account, and pull together a solution that meets their needs, often using a combination of video analytics, 3D LiDAR, other IoT sensors, and artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the data and provide insights.”

The tech is currently being used in airport (and related) services in Western Indonesia.

“We look forward to a day when it is second nature and expected to have the right data delivered to the right people at the right time, so that the operations behind the scenes are optimized to deliver a great experience for us, whether it be in an airport, train station, city street, college campus, or retail store,” Bean said.