London City Airport has been awarded a grant from the UK's Technology Strategy Board to implement a preliminary trial of cross-technology networking.
Known more generally as the Internet of Things (IoT), the technology allows disparate devices and technologies to communicate with one another in order to deliver a more efficient and effective user experience.
This next wave technology would allow for the Internet to be layered on top of the everyday travel experience.
Security lines would be able to communicate with each other, and then ping travelers' devices with waiting times. Limo drivers would know the moment their customers are making the way through the terminal. Food and beverage outlets could offer pre-orders for customers, and automatically begin preparing food as the customer clears security. Auto-rebookings could be enabled for travelers unable to make flights, as determined through their GPS-enabled device.
Marketing opportunities are also very lucrative. Travelers can be tracked according to their behavior, allowing retailers to discover what displays are most effective and how passengers interact with the commercial offerings that have proliferated in modern airports.
The possibilities are endless - and endlessly controversial. Privacy advocate and the big-brother averse take umbrage with the invasive nature of this sort of IoT application.
In response to London City's announcement, one privacy advocate, Evangeis Ouzounis, the head of the secure infrastructure and services unit at the European Network and Information Security Agency, responded:
"I believe that as we increase our dependency on Internet of Things, and because it is not a fully stable technology per se, the probability of having problems increases. I'm not saying it will happen, but we need to take measures now before the technology becomes commercially available.
[Hackers] might jam a smart device to make systems not available in the airport, or play with the bar code of flight tickets, so that you can have access to a space you shouldn't have access to."
The grant will allow London City Airport to develop a first-in-class test deployment of the network needed to connect the various machine elements. The network will consist of interconnected sensors and other deployments that allow ready communication across areas that heretofore have been isolated within their own technological confines.
Items that the airport plans to include in the IoT application are: managing passenger movements, measuring journey times, implementing customer loyalty programs and delivering location-specific services such as gate reminders, finding missing passengers and bags, and locating travelers in emergencies.
Technology company Living PlanIt and experiential retail developer Milligan are spearheading the initiative.
The company points to the inherent benefits for travelers, especially frequent flyers, as one of the drivers of the deployment.
The project will highlight the power of using technology to identify, acknowledge and engage with frequent-flyers in particular via an active, integrated and intelligent relationship management system making every passenger feel and experience they are a valued customer.
In the Living PlanIt's announcement, Matthew Hall, Chief Commercial Officer at London City Airport said:
"LCY is the gateway to East London, which is fast establishing itself as a ‘tech city’ within the capital. It therefore seems very fitting that we are taking a leading role in such a trailblazing project.
This project will help us to manage the passenger journey through the airport and interact with our customers, track assets on-site, and utilise intelligent marketing concepts tailored to an individual’s needs. We aim to set an example for airports and other businesses all over the world to follow.”
The Deputy Mayor of London, Kit Malthouse, sees great significance of the project for the City of London.
London is making new connections, bringing people, data and infrastructure together to improve the travelling experience for Londoners, tourists and business travellers. This investment is a sign of what is to come and will send the message globally that London is a pioneer in the use of technology. This is a great example of private sector led data sharing that will spur further innovation and entrepreneurial endeavor.
Other technology partners include Hitachi, IBM and Philips, with the integration due to be completed in March of 2014.