The Airport of Things

Time is money, so it’s no wonder that every airport aims to run seamlessly, like clockwork. However, the complexity of the aviation industry means that 100% efficiency will always be a goal rather than a reality. Here’s what cash centers can learn from Airport 4.0.

The airport in Geneva is no easy place to manage. And the problem isn’t that it is big, sprawling, crowded, and bustling; on the contrary, latest figures show that Geneva Airport is a manageable transit point with 16.5 million passengers (2016). Major hubs such as Dubai, Frankfurt, and Atlanta see much bigger numbers: 84 million, 60 million and 104 million passengers respectively. Rather, the challenge here is wireless internet access.
In Geneva, staying logged on means getting a 90-minute slot after requesting a password – which is sent by SMS – or being identified by ID card. Alternatively you could opt for the – even less convenient – option of scanning your boarding pass at a fixed terminal, where a machine prints an access code that you can type into a web interface. It’s not the most efficient process! It’s like forcing yourself offline for a media break, or maybe taking a brief journey through time to the early 1990s. Although they do have Robbi...

Airports require optimization everywhere!

“Touch me!” – not a gadget, but a tool

Robbi is the reason why Geneva’s airport is worth more than just a quick stopover. It’s an eye-level screen mounted on a rolling base, that intentionally obstructs the viewer’s path. “Touchez moi! Touch me!” the display requests, white text illuminated on a blue background. Alongside Robbi today is Gilles Brentini, innovation manager at Geneva Airport. “What are people most likely to ask Robbi? The way to the restroom!” Brentini continues, “we found that passengers were more than happy to interact with the robot.

For efficiency and automation, an innovation needs to supply useful services.

Gilles Brentini, Innovation Manager, Geneva Airport

They understood that this was not just another gadget, but an important tool to provide them with information.” Robbi is just a test piece. It is a first step in terms of automation, robotics, and productivity for Geneva Airport. Because, like airports around the world, this one needs to be optimized for maximum efficiency: waiting airplanes, waiting passengers, waiting for luggage to be processed – all expensive and inefficient.
But Robbi has much more to offer. If it were market-ready, Robbi would join the ever-expanding ranks of warehouse and logistics robots – market intelligence firm Tractica estimates that 620,000 units of this type will be sold annually by 2021.

The right balance between innovation and expectation

“Airports of the future will rely on robotics,” Brentini insists, “but to be useful for efficiency and automation, an innovation needs to bring useful services to passengers at the very moment they are needed – and not just to demonstrate what is possible.” For him it’s all about striking the right balance between innovation and passengers’ expectations, “otherwise you will be disconnected, and people won’t understand you anymore.”

The IoT is the cornerstone of Airport 3.0

“For the next 5 to 10 years, the focus for airports around the world will be on the integration of all stakeholder information in real-time,” Brentini comments. Airports are now firmly in Airport 3.0, with the Internet of Things (IoT) as a cornerstone of this, together with geo-locating technology. These technologies gather information on every aspect of the operation as it is happening, creating a real-time picture of the airport.
It will still be some time before robots like Robbi or “Luggage-Leo” – a fully autonomous baggage robot – will be able to use real-time information and contribute to the ever-growing amount of big data, increasing efficiency and productivity. Until then, why not initiate a more obvious improvement in terms of usability and comfort? Wouldn’t an easily accessible wifi network be a great start? Because efficiency doesn’t always mean implementing the latest technology and IT developments. Sometimes it just means providing a reliable wireless network, easy and free to use.

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