Thursday, June 1, 2017
Robotic kiosks and other new tech coming to your airport
By Harriet Baskas
Meet KATE, SITA’s new intelligent robotic kiosk
There’s some cool new technology — and creative uses of emerging technologies — poised to make your trip through the airport less painful and, possibly, more rewarding.
That’s the takeaway from the Air Transport IT Summit held in Brussels last week, convened by SITA, a global air transport IT provider owned by airlines and other air transport companies.
No more check-in lines? KATE may help
Last year, SITA Lab, SITA’s technology research arm, introduced a self-propelling baggage robot named Leo, who may someday greet you at the airport curb, check you in for your flight, issue your bag tags and then take your bags away for processing.
This year, SITA Lab unveiled KATE, an intelligent check-in kiosk that can move autonomously, and in teams, to busy or congested areas in airports.
KATE the kiosk can monitor a variety of data sources, including flight and passenger flow information, sense when and where additional check-in kiosks are needed and, using geo-location and obstacle avoidance technology, move through the airport without bumping into things or people.
The robotic kiosks are also designed to automatically return to their docking stations when they are low on power or if they need a fresh supply of boarding passes or bag tags.
“The peak and troughs in the flow of passengers present a challenge to many airlines and airports,” said Renaud Irminger, director of SITA Lab. “KATE leverages new technologies to provide operators much more flexibility and efficiency in the way they will use their kiosks in the future.”
Movable kiosks could not only help airports and airlines better serve passengers when re-booking is necessary due to flight cancellations or weather delays, but they might also be put on duty in offsite locations, such as train stations, convention halls and, possibly, cruise ports.
Airlines that use the common-use SITA check-in kiosks and bag-drop stations now standard at many airports currently don’t currently have a secure way to accept passenger payments at those terminals for extras such as baggage fees, upgrades and other ancillary items.
At the Air Transport IT Summit, SITA announced that it has solved the "multi-merchant" problem with a new payment system that uses point-to-point encryption (P2PE) technology that can accept various forms of payment, including MasterCard, Visa and Payment Card Industry (PCI)-compliant chip cards.
Look for a roll-out of this in SITA’s common-use kiosks and bag-drop stations at airports in the next few months.
On the flipside, for those occasions when airlines must (or want to) compensate passengers for flight delays, cancellations or overbookings, a company called TravaCoin has partnered with SITA to test a voucher system that airlines can use to quickly issue credit to passengers that can (or can only) be spent on new flights, upgrades, hotel stays and services inside the airport — or perhaps donated to local charities and non-profits.
TravaCoin CEO and founder Brian Whelan told USA TODAY he envisions the digital currency being of special interest to airlines based in or flying through European Union countries that are currently required by EU Regulation 261 to pay passengers up to 600 euros (currently about $668) per inconvenience.
“At the moment airlines are holding out and making it awkward,” said Whelan. “They’re losing the money eventually, but also losing customer loyalty. This is a way for airlines, even airlines not covered by the regulations, to be proactive by issuing currency that can be spent in the TravaCoin community. The goodwill and the money go hand in hand.”
So do the benefits that airlines, especially, might gain from adopting TravaCoin currency for compensating passengers.
“There is a ‘breakages’ notion,” said Whelan. “If you give people vouchers, one way the merchant benefits is if the customer never spends the voucher.”
TravaCoin’s surveys have found that while many passengers who say they’d accept the vouchers would "top up" and spend some of their own cash on top of the voucher value, about 20% would likely not spend their vouchers at all.
The goodwill aspect of TravaCoin appeals to Brian Cobb, vice-president of customer experience at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, which has successfully used new technology to improve customer service with reduced checkpoint wait times and cleaner restrooms in public areas of the airport.
“Love the idea. Especially with the consumer choice in how to spend, including donating back to the community,” said Cobb. “While it is likely some time in coming, airports may need to leverage customer service recovery tools much in the way airlines do today. It's a solid method to support recovering the brand perception and exceeding customer expectations.”