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NEWS Last modified on May 21, 2018

BLOG: Navigating the airport of the future

Outdoor navigation technology has matured – but what about indoor? We all walk around with a detailed map of the world in our pockets, but when we enter a building, more often than not the navigation drops out, writes João Fernandes.

That’s because map technology is enabled via GPS – satellite technology – which is rubbish at picking up phone frequencies from within buildings.

This can be a big issue in complex indoor environments, such as airports.

Passengers arrive with little-to-no idea how to navigate to their check-in desk or departure gate, wandering aimlessly around looking for directions. This can result in long queues, missed departures and angry customers.

Fortunately, solutions to this particular problem have already been developed. Most use Bluetooth beacons positioned around a building’s interior to ping a user’s mobile device, allowing an app to pinpoint the user’s location to within a few feet.
These beacons are steadily becoming cheaper and more reliable, making them a cost-effective solution for most large and complex indoor environments, such airports.

Every environment has its own unique technical challenges to be ironed out, however, meaning indoor navigation requires an expert consultancy rather than a DIY approach.

BuzzStreets, for example, is working on a number of pilot projects with airports, hospitals, and stadiums to iron out these kinks, while Google offer DIY indoor mapping without navigation features.

In the very near future, we will see the combination of these technologies, providing a quick and simple solution for buildings of any size.

At this point, we will quickly reach a critical mass of businesses providing indoor navigation and the whole world will be navigable – indoors and out.

Indoor navigation isn’t just about getting people from A to B, however – it’s also about the journey.

Indoor environments, for example departure lounges, could be made so much more interesting and engaging. Most airports already offer free Wi-Fi and digital games to keep kids entertained while they wait.

Now imagine going into an airport and seeing marine animals swimming through the air, with games and news appearing on virtual screens around you.

As you approach your favourite fragrance counter you can already see whether they have the perfume you wanted before receiving a special discount code. As you step inside the lighting changes and your favourite band plays softly in the corner.

By developing these into immersive experiences, airports have the opportunity to create a fun space where people enjoy waiting.

Again, this isn’t necessarily a sci-fi vision. BuzzStreets is already playing around with augmented reality (AR) ideas such as these to offer travellers and shoppers a rich, immersive environment to explore.

When handsfree, wearable devices become the mainstream, this futuristic vision will become a reality. Until then, we will still need to use our smartphones and tablets as a window to this world.
Data has become a catch-word over the last few years. It’s BIG, it drives things, and everyone wants a piece of it. It’s been accused of swinging elections and found to help cure cancer. It’s the new oil.

Anonymous navigation data also holds a great power. With over 3.6 billion air passengers every year (according to IATA) the world’s airports can’t wait for the results of a five-year trial before making important changes.

The world is too complex and fast-moving for that traditional approach. Gathering anonymous navigation data in real-time allows us to put our theories to the test, develop new models, and make useful changes quickly and accurately.

How do people move around your airport? What route do they take to get there? Where does your departure lounge get the highest footfall? When and where are people most likely to buy food?

Data can help answer all of these questions and many more. Airports can optimise their environments to improve the user experience, save money, and improve security.

About the author
João Fernandes is the founder and CEO of BuzzStreets, a B2B navigation and location-based services solution, which combines indoor and outdoor navigation with technologies such as augmented reality and proximity-triggered offers, to create a bespoke solution for customer engagement. 

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