Is the Internet of Things finally set to fly in passenger airline cabins? After years of hearing how it will revolutionize the passenger experience travelers might finally start to see some benefits of such programs. Or, if things go to plan, never see the changes at all, even as the improvements take flight.
At the recent APEX EXPO in Boston Airbus‘ vice-president, Cabin Marketing, Ingo Wuggetzer spoke of a new ecosystem the manufacturer hopes to enable. The manufacturer won’t be building any of the specific use cases but it hopes to aid its interiors suppliers in developing systems that connect using the wireless infrastructure on board. Simple use cases such as RFID tracking of life vests on board can save significant time for airlines at minimal cost (and a competing version is already in service for Delta). More complex use cases could identify seats that are reclined when they should be upright or seat belts loose when they should be buckled.
The life vest use case delivers real value that is easily measured. The seat belt and recline status details are harder to account for. The increase in safety for passengers only comes if flight attendants act on the data. And it requires that the costs of the sensors drops dramatically. As with many early iterations of technology, lots of ideas will be proffered. Only some will make it to production and fewer still will see broad adoption.
Bins gone wild!
One such use case, demonstrated by Astronics, is far less obvious but arguably even more valuable. The Intelligent Bin System can potentially help airlines avoid diversions.
The company designed a kit that sits inside the overhead bin, monitoring how full the space is. That data can be transmitted in real-time to the crew or a gate agent, helping ease the boarding process. It can also help detect items left in the bins as passengers depart, helping forgetful passengers.
The best use case, however, is far more subtle. The wireless hardware includes environmental monitoring systems as well. Temperature and humidity monitoring in the bin are unlikely to bring tremendous value to the airline but the system can also detect the off-gassing associated with personal electronic devices as they fail. Typically a failing Lithium-ion batter will start to release these gases as much as five minutes before the pack catches fire. Alerting on the gasses rather than the fire gives flight attendants a significant advantage in containing the incident, even before it happens.
In-seat power is quickly growing as a passenger expectation, even on single-aisle aircraft. The hardware to deliver that service is not cheap and in this era of unbundled pricing some U/LCCs see in-seat power as a viable sales opportunity. Today only Scoot flies a paid power offering but IFPL hopes that will change.
The company introduced its Patent Pending USB “Charge To Charge” offering, bringing a new way for airlines to generate ancillary revenue from the USB power ports on board. The system can be simple, showing an advert or delivering a promotion on the device screen when a passenger plugs in. It can also be far more complex, with digital tokens and payment systems that could leave passengers frustrated and airlines over-invested in the systems for a minimal take rate and return on investment.
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