Air transport industry moves towards Google Glass and smart watches

Smart watches, smart glasses and other wearable computing devices will be part of the airport of the future, according to air transport industry IT provider SITA, which has conducted trials of the new technology.

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Smart watches, smart glasses and other wearable computing devices will be part of the airport of the future, according to air transport industry IT provider SITA, which has conducted trials of the new technology.

The biggest buzz in the wearable IT market is around smart watches and smart glasses, helped by launches from high profile consumer giants like Sony, Samsung, and Google.

It is estimated that more than 1.2 million smart watches will be shipped in 2013, said SITA.

SITA Lab was one of a few selected developers to receive both the Google Glass and Vuzix M100 eyewear gadgets before their public launch, in order to evaluate them. It carried out tests for a variety of uses in airline and airport settings.

Jim Peters, chief technology officer for SITA, speaking at the Europe Aviation ICT Forum in Vienna, said: “Wearable devices like Google Glass offer new opportunities to mobilise staff, keeping their hands free, while keeping them connected to the traditional check-in and reservation systems.

"Interaction can be via video analysis of what a staff member is looking at, like a boarding pass or bag tag, or voice recognition, or a combination of both.”

Peters however said some issues with the technology had to be overcome.

As part of its testing, SITA Lab developed an application called SWIFT Boarding using the smart headgear’s built-in camera as a scanner and the heads-up display.

The aim was to allow agents in the boarding area to securely scan and verify both a boarding pass and passport simultaneously wearing smart glasses. Both documents are held side by side while the app matches the two to ensure they belong to the same person.

As a proof of concept the SWIFT application was a success. However, said SITA, the devices are not fast enough yet to be able to meet the high speed passenger processing requirements needed at airports.

Matching the documents takes longer than the industry’s one second benchmark making it "unviable" as an alternative to existing systems, said SITA, until more powerful smart glasses are developed.

Peters said: “For any type of use in the air transport industry the technology needs to be more robust to avoid breakages, and the cost will also have to come down.

"The camera quality will also need to be enhanced. Currently it requires near perfect light conditions within the airport for scanning documents to be successful."

Other areas to be addressed include bandwidth for widespread use and battery life, said Peters.

But SITA expects that many of the issues will be overcome in the "next 12-18 months", as updated gadgets are released.