SAS Lab, the innovation hub from the Scandinavian airline, has big ambitions to improve the travel process by getting under passengers’ skin.
As Massimo Pascotto, who heads up the division explains, biometric identification is where we’re all headed for a smooth travel process, but of all the biometric technologies on the market, SAS Lab has found that palm scanning will likely prove most reliable.
This is because other biometric identification is either vulnerable to forgery or uncomfortable for passengers to use.
“Overall, I've been a little bit concerned over biometrics - the problem is what happens once that biometric information is taken. A fingerprint can be duplicated. It's not as secure,” he tells us.
Palm scanners look at the blood vessels in the palm of the hand, a very complex and unique signature for each individual which can only be confirmed by algorithms and is hard to forge.
“You have to scan the palm, and it creates a template, reading the constraints, and transfers this information to an identity token. The next time that you scan, if the token is not identical the algorithm will determine whether it's you. If the scanner receives exactly the same template it will refuse,” Pascotto says.
“Also, it is contactless. We used to have the fingerprint technology four of five years ago. One of the problems is that it's not that reliable. It’s now better, but you’re forcing passengers to touch a reader.”
The advantage to passengers for this type of biometric identification, Pascotto says, is its security and the speed of clearing through access points such as lounges and gates.
“I believe it's something that will happen in the future - being identified by your body on any sort of device,” he says. “The problem I see is that there is still a lot of skepticism from the users."
There is another challenge for biometric technology and it is a familiar one for travel firms - system integration. The data cannot be readily exchanged throughout the travel process, and that will be a challenge to tackle going forward.
SAS Lab has not stopped at palm prints. Pascotto tells us that the company is still experimenting with other contactless proximity identification, including a trial of wearable rings with embedded chips.
For the present, SAS already allows passengers access to lounges with mobile NFC scanners and has recently launched a Samsung Gear S2 app which uses the airline’s new Smart Pass with NFC technology to grant access to the lounge and at the gate.
The airline is also reviewing digital tags for luggage which customers can reuse, but Pascotto tells us that SAS is considering a flexible electronic tag which would also prove more affordable to customers.
“Other airlines have been experimenting using ink display technology. It’s a good technology, but it’s very expensive to produce which has an impact on the consumer. We're looking at another technology, based on electro-carbon, which will be easier to use and cheaper,” he tells us.
This tag works like other electronic luggage tags in the market, connecting with passengers' mobiles to update flight information. “We’re still in the research phase, running the tests now during the summer and after the summer we will know whether we are ready to produce,” Pascotto says.
We asked Pascotto what he believes the dominant digital trends will be over the next five years of travel, and he gave us a curious answer:
“We are looking at 4-5 months rather than 4-5 years because things are changing so quickly,” he said.
SAS Lab takes full advantage of its privileged location in the Silicon Valley of the North to keep up with the latest innovations, working with agile start-ups in not only the Nordics but also California. Pascotto expressed a preference for working with less risk averse companies, those willing to get it wrong and move on and start again.
“We want to give it a try and experiment and use the MVP (minimum viable product) concept, implementing something very small,” he says.
But there are trends in these innovations which Pascotto believes will dominate in future: biometrics, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.
Pascotto believes virtual reality could directly benefit passengers as entertainment, but also indirectly as airlines and airports can use it as a training tool to improve their operations and, as a result, the passenger experience.
Artificial intelligence is taking up a lot of Pascotto’s time just now.
“We are investing a lot on artificial intelligence, including Facebook Messenger and booking. The idea is to expand the service to allow user to answer any questions,” he says.
Another Nordic carrier, Icelandair introduced the first of these smart mobile booking engines just this week. “It’s definitely a trend because it's a new touchpoint, using natural language and allowing customers to ask questions in their own way rather than structured like an app. Humans don't interact like this. People say, 'I need to go to Stockholm tomorrow,’ or within the next few weeks.”
As natural language searches become more common at home and in everyday life, passengers will expect travel providers to keep up.
“This will go to the next level, when you can speak to the phone and get answers, as with the Amazon Echo,” Pascotto says.
With the rapidly changing landscape in these fields, the next five months will be busy for Pascotto, and the five months after that, and the five months after that.
Related reading from Tnooz:
Didi uses big data and biometrics in new safety push (July 2016)
Man uses an NFC chip implanted in his hand as his boarding pass (Jan 2016)
Biometrics and travel – technology for technology’s sake? (Nov 2015)
NB Image by Sean Gladwell/BigStock.com