How IoT Is Transforming Aviation Industry

maneesh

We are at the start of a new information age. An age that will see the proliferation of smart objects and devices drive massive gains in efficiency, deliver greater value to customers and staff, and enable new business models.

The number of devices collecting and exchanging data has grown significantly over the last few years. Some reports suggest that connected devices will surpass 15 billion in 2015 and reach over 50 billion by 2020.

Most of the buzz is around the consumer sector. However, there are good reasons for air transport businesses to start getting excited. The technology holds tremendous benefits for the industry while we are starting to see alignment in many of the core enablers.

Embedded sensors

Placing sensors in objects allows them to be controlled, gather data and connect to other things. Just in the last few years there’s been a leap forward in technological capabilities of sensors.

Widespread wireless connectivity has already been a significant contributor to the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) using either cellular networks or Wi-Fi. Low-power, wide-area networks, known as LPWANs, are also starting to emerge which improve the business case for low bandwidth sensors.

These tap an unlicensed wireless spectrum known as the industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) radio band allowing sensors to be connected over distances of more than 100km and powered over 10 years with AA batteries. In addition, they’re highly secure.

Cloud

The use of cloud computing provides the single platform that can handle and integrate all the data sources, including people, with the processes and systems. Factor in data analytics and today data that was the preserve of a few can be turned into useful information and distributed to millions in minutes.

At the moment it is still early days. But to make the most of a smart, connected world, we need to identify specific IoT use cases that will bring our industry operational or customer service improvements.

Smart airport cities

In this new digital age, airports are taking their cue from the smart city concept and advances in technology and data collection are being used to get real-time information on the surrounding environment.

By embedding sensors throughout the airport environment it’s expected to improve airport operations and enhance the passenger experience. By integrating, optimizing and analyzing the data from multiple airport buildings and operational systems we can develop new types of smart applications and services for passengers, airlines and airports.

Passengers will be able to get accurate information, such as queue lengths and time to gate, from these smart systems using mobile apps, watches and, further down the line, other wearables. Airport operators will also be able to proactively manage their operations using data collected from across the airport. It will enable better decision-making and faster reaction to unfolding events. With machines speaking to each other, it will eliminate the need for human intervention in mundane decision-making.

Airline Opportunities

Airlines are also waking up to the potential. SITA’s Airline IT Trends Survey 2016 indicated that 29% of airlines have embarked on major IoT programs, up from just 16% in the 2015 survey. A further 38% of airlines are planning research and pilot projects over the next three years.

Much of the investment is earmarked for personalization to passengers and getting better utilization of aircraft.

Gateway

One gateway technology for IoT is beacons. Placing them throughout airports can trigger an action on the mobile device of a passenger as they pass within range. This could be notifications such as time to gate or changes to flight status, or even displaying the mobile boarding pass on the mobile’s screen.

Importantly it means the passenger can be given the right information at the right time. The airline would also know how far away the passenger is, helping it make more informed decisions about when to wait and when to close the aircraft door.

Smart bags

Another opportunity is to relieve the anxiety felt by passengers about whether their bags made the flight. Airlines are looking at smart bag tags which would allow passengers to track their bags through a mobile app. It could even let passengers know which carousel to collect their baggage from and how long it will take.  

Nonetheless, without a reliable and secure network connection to power the potentially large number of devices, IoT will fail to deliver value. Existing communication networks, such as cellular and Wi-Fi, either lack the wide coverage or are not cost effective for some airline use cases, where objects travel over long distances.

Low cost

A number of alternatives are beginning to emerge, including LoRa and Wi-Fi (802.11 AF) networks. These have lower costs than existing solutions, improving the business case for adding sensors to a number of potential objects, which should help accelerate IoT deployments within the industry.

The network operates in the globally available ISM bands (license-free frequency bands), where interference and capacity constraints are not an issue. These low power networks could really play a key role in enabling IoT within air transport.