The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on travel. The risk of human-to-human virus transmission has never been so much in the spotlight, and the travel industry is having to adapt quickly to a new world of airport health screenings and contact-free security. We take a closer look at the new travel technologies shaping the way we travel.
The development of touchscreen technology has infiltrated the travel industry in the past decade, with touchscreen check-in gradually replacing staffed desks and touchscreen TVs on the back of each long-haul seat. But without sanitising screens after every use, they can be a hotbed for virus transmission.
Enter the era of ‘touchless’ tech, which uses biometrics to verify bookings and identity. That could mean increased mobile boarding passes and a transition towards iris scans and AI facial recognition, and away from scanning passports and IDs. Facial recognition boarding practises are already being implemented by Delta Air Lines and are being tested by United Airlines. Biometrics testing is underway at airports in Canada, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Singapore and Spain, too – and only looks set to increase.
Permanently skipping airport security queues. Sounds like a dream come true, right? But social distancing is near-impossible when the process requires passengers to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and share plastic trays for their bags and shoes – calling for an end to long lines and the advent of smart queuing technology.
“In order to stop over-crowding, airport queues will become by appointment only. We may move to a reservation-only society, with people who used to make last-minute plans being forced to adapt.”Dave Thomson, Head of Product and Design at Skyscanner
Montréal-Trudeau International Airport has begun asking passengers to book their own security screenings, eliminating the need for a queue. But it could go a step further. Luggage screening of the future could be done by different kinds of computer vision systems, eventually removing the need for a centralised security screen. Watch this space.
Airline marketing strategy firm Simplifying predicts a future of ‘sanitised travel’. Luggage will have to be spray-disinfected and then ‘sanitagged’ on the check-in belt before being put on the plane. Hand luggage will be quickly sanitised via UV rays or fogging while in the X-ray security machine.
Singapore’s Changi Airport is already implementing the sanitisation of trolleys, check-in kiosks and security trays with a long-lasting antimicrobial coating to reduce the risk of virus transmission. Countless airports are not only increasing general hygiene but are also implementing automated hand sanitiser pumps.
Autonomous payment systems
Shop conveyor belts and tills are all potential virus hotspots. The introduction of digital payment systems, straight from your phone could eliminate the need for tills.
“The world will go mobile and contactless at an incredible rate. “The thought of handling paper tickets and paying with cash will quickly become things of the past.”Dave Thomson, Head of Product and Design at Skyscanner
Robots could even be used to deliver purchases to shoppers and shoppers could browse options using virtual reality, or holographic, technology. All you need to do is sit in your socially distanced area and let your duty-free purchases come to you. Relaxing much?
Imagine if viruses could be detected during travel? With effective health testing incorporated into the security process, that could become a reality. Temperature checks are becoming the norm for travellers going through international airports. How can travel tech streamline that process and make it more effective?
South Korea’s Incheon International Airport is deploying temperature-taking robots in solo kiosks, while thermal screening in Hamad International Airport, Qatar, is implemented by robotics and special helmets. Investment in automated technology, for all travellers, minimises the need for human contact throughout the security and health screening process.
No matter how much airport sanitisation takes place, there’s an element of human transmission that can be eradicated by the use of cleaning robots. Hong Kong International Airport was the first to trial full-body disinfection booths and Intelligent Sanitisation Robots, capable of killing 99.99% of bacteria and viruses in the air. Cleaning robots are deployed throughout Singapore’s Changi Airport, using a misting attachment to disinfect carpets after vacuuming.
Clinically tested disinfection robots have become more commonplace in hospital and laboratory settings – and look to migrate increasingly into airports, too.
AI security systems
The changing landscape of travel tech due to COVID-19 has accelerated the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Machine learning techniques in advanced body scans could be used to detect threats, like explosives and firearms. Japan’s Finance Ministry is already investing in this kind of technology. The ministry aims to introduce an AI-based system over the next 10 years that will detect contraband via AI-analysed X-ray images.
What does this mean for travellers? Well, a much faster security experience for one. AI screening platform Evolv Edge, already in use at Oakland International Airport in the US, can screen 900 people in one hour.
Socially distanced dinners
Research has shown that during the lockdown, people missed visiting restaurants and cafes more than any other social activity. And although the Swedish government famously didn’t impose a strict lockdown, the prevalence of COVID-19 has still affected the hospitality industry. Summer hotel bookings have dropped dramatically and local people have been avoiding restaurants and cafes.
One hotel in the Swedish town of Lidköping came up with an ingenious solution to both problems. Seeing a 70% drop in business, the hotel manager of Stadshotellet decided to offer something new: private pop-up dinners in the hotel’s empty rooms. The 67 Pop Up Restaurant takes bookings for private groups of up to 12, operating a bit like room service but with fancy cutlery and linen. It’s a cute idea that could take off as social distancing continues.
Hotel TV apps
In a hotel room, what’s the surface area that every single guest will touch? The TV remote, of course. The COVID-19 pandemic has hugely impacted the hospitality industry and hotel owners and teams are coming up with solutions to minimise the risk of spreading bacteria and viruses.
Smart TV and cloud management company Otrum has devised a Virtual Remote Control for hotel televisions, which encourages the use of in-room interactive services while prioritising health and cleanliness. Using their smartphone, guests scan a QR code from the in-room TV, which unlocks a remote control app on the phone – and when you check out, it automatically disables. Easy peasy.
As soon as you land in a new destination, the first thing you do is make an immediate, secondary trip to wherever you’re staying. That might mean taking a train or a bus but often means picking up your hire car. The car rental industry is going to great lengths to ensure that this process is as risk- and hassle-free as possible, by investing in ‘self-unlocking’ vehicles that don’t require keys to be passed from person to person.
Rental company Sixt has made it possible for customers to order, collect and deliver a car without direct contact with its staff. Vehicle keys are left in lockers that are accessed via your mobile phone. There are already mobile-controlled unlocking systems on the market, in use by city rentals company Zipcar which allows a car to be unlocked via its app. We can expect many more contact-free, travel tech solutions as we become accustomed to the new normal in travel.
Travel technology FAQs
Dave Thomson, Head of Product and Design at Skyscanner, shares his future travel technology predictions.
We’ll see a shift from “how do I get from A to B, fast and cheap?” to “of the 10 ways I can get from A to B, which one is safest for me and my family?”. Also a shift in advocating for travel to less densely populated destinations.
The shift to mobile and contactless will happen at an incredible rate. It may be large enough where some companies can stop investing in their website products entirely and become app only.
Trust in new technology normally starts off low – until it reaches a late majority and becomes pervasive in our day to day lives. Tesla started as a high-end hobby for rich car enthusiasts, yet today we see one parked on almost every street in London. Sadly, the technology stories around COVID-19 have mostly been debates and failures around track and trace apps. Given that this is on the topic of your own data and its use, that drives confidence down.
Understanding how their data is being used and how it will be stored in the context of track and trace apps. If thermal imaging becomes pervasive at airports and train stations, people will want to know if it’s just taking their temperature or also doing facial recognition. The main thing is to be upfront about the problem this technology is solving, how that keeps us safe and healthy, and exactly what data it will be using.
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