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How the Internet of Things improves air travel

Bruce Harpham | May 25, 2016
Let’s face it: These days, flying is the pits. Here are some ways the industry is using IoT technology to make the friendly skies a little friendlier.

Delta improves maintenance, pet travel with IoT tools

In October 2015, Delta Air Lines partnered with Bit Stew Systems to deploy analytics systems on part of its fleet, with the goal of improving maintenance. “Aircraft maintenance is a significant challenge for the industry. Diagnosing problems can take days with existing methods,” says Franco Castaldini, vice president of marketing at Bit Stew, a maker of a software platform for industrial Internet systems.

Before joining Bit Stew, Castaldini led product marketing for GE's Energy Management software systems while working in the company’s Software Center of Excellence. That background gives him perspective on both sides of the IOT trend: deploying sensors (e.g. on GE’s engines) and creating analytics software to make sense of the data (with Bit Stew).

Travelling pets also benefit from Delta’s technological innovations. Using tracking technology from Sendum Wireless, the airline now offers GPS tracking for pets shipped. The system provides real-time location, temperature and humidity data. As of 2015, the service was offered at several U.S. airports, including facilities serving Atlanta, Los Angeles, Memphis, Salt Lake City and Tampa, Fla.

Innovations from aviation manufacturers

IoT technologies are also being used in innovative ways in the airplane manufacturing industry. “General Electric’s newer engines are packed with sensors that collect data on performance, which informs planning and maintenance,” says Jim Peters, CTO at SITA. “In 2015, we saw increasing adoption of beacon technology to improve the passenger experience. We also saw movement toward real-time analytics.”

As an example of the potential for IoT-related innovation in the aviation industry, Peters cites the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, saying that plane is essentially “a flying data center, when you consider all the sensors and data processing capabilities it has.” Given that Boeing has already built more than 300 Dreamliners, that flying data center is quickly becoming an industry standard.

Smart luggage for techies on the go

The race is on to develop “smart luggage” products, as startups and established luggage companies see a market opportunity for suitcases equipped with sensors, GPS capabilities and other features designed to help travelers keep track of their bags and more.

Designers Harry Sheikh and Joseph Pagan of Planet Traveler USA raised more than $900,000 from nearly 2,000 people on Kickstarter in 2015 to create the Space Case 1, a smart bag with GPS, fingerprint locks and speakers. The Space Case comes in a carry-on model and a larger check-in model.

Another startup that’s getting a lot of crowdfunding support to develop smart luggage is Bluesmart, whoseIndiegogo campaign raised over $2 million from more than 10,000 supporters. According to Bluesmart, its product is a smart carry-on that you can control from your phone, using an app to lock and unlock it, weigh it, track its location and even get a notification if you leave it behind.


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