Sensor alert: how the travel industry is investing in safety

From helmets that screen temperatures to platforms proclaiming infection detection and sensor-based menu protection, Covid-19 has spurred a raft of innovation in the hope of getting travellers moving again

Keep your distance – one meter….two metres! Do not touch!!!

As travellers tentatively emerge for summer holiday trips, they will find their routes ubiquitously plastered with bold-lettered instructions. They will also find themselves under a high degree of surveillance. But it will not all be basic - readying themselves, hotels and airports are investing heavily in technology to guide travellers on their way and make the transition in a Covid-19 world as easy and as safe as possible. It is estimated that something like $1.4 billion will be spent in the next few years on sensors alone.

Airports have been swotting up on how to control the crowds and ensure they keep their distance.

Online media group International Airport Review makes a number of findings:

  • The most cost-effective and accurate approach to understanding how people move and dwell is to adopt a hybrid of various sensor technologies, including cameras, people counters and Wifi/BLE sensors

  • Passenger density analytics can measure the degree of risk in real time, derived from distancing measurements, crowd movement patterns and the size of the area being monitored. Alerts and automated action can be triggered if density thresholds are exceeded.

With this sort of insight, it concludes: “Airports can then make intelligent, proactive decisions to limit the number of people congregating such as redirecting flow with digital messages, adjusting call-to-gate times or spreading gate and baggage belt allocations.”

There is a lot of different technology out there. Airports like Hamad International Airport (Dohar, Qatar) and Istanbul Aiport are among those making a PR feature of smart screening helmets - a wearable intelligent helmet which enables contactless temperature measurements. The helmet uses infrared thermal imaging, artificial intelligence and augmented reality and enables implementation of mobile deployment-based controls on traveller movement in the airport. Reuters reports that KC Wearable is one company that says it has sold over thousand units with orders coming from the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

Infection detection

The sensors are not all to detect and check! NEC, Fujitec, Toshiba Tec, and others have announced developments in touchless user interfaces, as a thriving sensor industry serving smartphones and IoT adapts to Covid-19. Sensor manufacturer Optex has launched a contactless switch for opening and closing doors which works when a hand is held over the sensor, the UK’s tech publication AV Magazine reports. The system converts near infrared waves into microwaves to reduce malfunctions.

Another development in touchless technology, according to media group FutureTravelExperience, is Elenium Automation. CEO Aaron Hornlimann explains on the website its development of patent-pending touchless solutions that allow passengers, including those with reduced mobility, to control the self-service device using their head movement as an alternative to physically touching a screen. Ideal for airports, this technology can also read and identify ID such as passports.

It adds: “Voice recognition, which Elenium has developed in partnership with Amazon Web Services, is an additional option for touchless control of a self-service device. It also features heart rate, body temperature and respiration rate, which are read and analysed using near infrared and thermal imaging to provide an indication of possible illness.

We are facing a new reality at airports and we think that there would be plenty of measures to check passengers’ health and one of these would be temperature checks to prevent the virus from future spread

Andreas Hofmann, Director of Business Development, Amorph Systems

Yet another is German IT group Amorph Systems, which has recently teamed up with low-code platform VANTIQ to help airports worldwide launch services needed during the COVID-19 outbreak. Andreas Hofmann, the company’s director of business development, describes a new solution - a collaborative platform for real-time infection detection and containment for airports, called IDCS (Infection Detection and Containment System). He said: “We are facing a new reality at airports and we think that there would be plenty of measures to check passengers’ health and one of these would be temperature checks to prevent the virus from future spread.”

French software group Dassault Systemes is offering its life-sciences technology to airports to help them validate the efficiency and effectiveness of open ventilators. The Virtual Twin could also simulate the propagation and exposures of the virus to help airports understand potential cross-infection areas in their buildings and related impacts on passengers and their surroundings.

Hotel design in a crisis

When it comes to accommodation, those hotels than can afford it are also investing in new design. Ideas being incorporated in the luxury segment include a “negative pressure” floor (an isolation technique to prevent cross contamination from room to room), built-in thermal scanners, a mobile check-in system, and non-touch control panels in elevators.

On redesigns, Wharf Hotels is reported by JLL Commercial Property Research to incorporating not just “greater spatial layouts,” in public areas but also the restaurant and club lounge. “We need to adopt Covid-19 protocols as we anticipate this will be what guests expect in the future,” Dalip Singh, general manager of Marco Polo Hotels Hong Kong, one of two Wharf Hotels brands, says according to the JLL report.

There is no end to the reach of sensors! Not as much to do with security (although it helps minimise dining contact) as technology - Toshiba Tec, can deliver a sensor-based tabletop restaurant menu in which menu items are projected directly onto the table in their actual size and orders taken via sensors. As a form of entertainment, AV Magazine adds, the cooking can be projected onto the table during while diners wait.

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