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At Austin airport, Wi-Fi predicts how long the security line will be

Stephen Lawson | Oct. 24, 2014
Using signals from passengers' devices, the system collects data that can help travelers plan ahead.

The signs help set travelers' expectations, which has reduced complaints about the wait, Peterson said. But the displays are just the beginning. All that data is stored -- again, without any names associated with it -- and can be analyzed to estimate how long the security line will be at any given time and day. Boingo has shared the information with the airport and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which then made changes that reduced wait times, he said. It may also share the data with airlines, which could use it to estimate wait times for their customers. Delivered well before their flights, those estimates could help them decide when to leave for the airport.

Data from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices makes for pretty accurate estimates of wait times, according to Peterson. With about two months of historical data, the system can build a predictive model for normal days that's about 99 percent accurate, he said. In Austin, where the system has more than a year of data built up, it can now account for holiday travel surges. But other events, like the shooting of a TSA agent that shut down part of Los Angeles International Airport last year, can't really be built into a predictive model.

Boingo envisions using the network's location capabilities for other services, too. For example, the airport could predict busy times for restrooms with a detection system similar to the one at the security checkpoints, and it could track movable airport assets such as wheelchairs by equipping them with Wi-Fi radios, Peterson said.

Additional services, for travelers who opt in to them, could include notifications and retail promotions that are based on where someone is in the airport and how much time they have to get to the gate and board, he said.

Wireless location technology has improved dramatically just in the past six to 18 months, according to Peterson."It's come a long way in the accuracy that you're able to get off of both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi," he said.

As for luggage, seemingly the most misplaced thing in airports, there may be a Wi-Fi solution for that problem, too.

"That is one of the applications that we've toyed with," Peterson said.

 

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