San Diego International Airport Innovation Lab
If SMS Is Applied, This Network Could Also Deliver Tremendous Safety Benefits
At best an airport can be a pleasant place to eat, buy some items, read and wait between the TSA labyrinth and the airline boarding; at worst, well maybe you can just remind yourself of your worst experience and we’ll forgo an example. Rick Belliotti, Director, Innovation and Small Business Development at San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, is taking steps to improve that time. If the aperture of his project’s focus is opened, there may be additional safety benefits.
His employer, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority (whose President/CEO Thella Bowens recently announced her retirement) allowed him to convert the decommissioned Commuter Terminal into a laboratory to explore how all passengers might benefit from innovation. As Belliotti explained, “We’re continually looking to innovate and this term, ‘innovation’, has come up in the industry in the last few years as a buzzword yet nobody really has a clear definition of what it means to innovate. We’re all grappling with this idea and so, as an airport, we decided we needed to create a physical embodiment of what it means to innovate, and that was the beginnings of the innovation lab itself.”
His lab includes baggage carousel, the ticket counters, passenger seating areas and all the elements of an ordinary airport environment. His sterile area creates a real testing ground for new products, services and technologies, which vendors, airlines and airport management may believe may improve their collective customers’ visits.
Belliotti further explained, “We thought ‘how can we allow innovative companies who may have brilliant ideas that would impact our industry – improve our customers’ experience, help our operations, help us to reduce our costs, all of those very valuable things – enter into the marketplace?’ We’ve been careful not to just limit this to start-ups, though, because there are existing companies that have innovative ideas as well.” Another value of creating a dedicated lab, Belliotti added, is the ability to connect companies in the local community with others already working in the air transport industry and “to bring all of that knowledge together.”
“We once had the mentality of a landlord and created relationships where we simply rented out space and managed leases,” the Director continued. “We’re now interested in making the customer experience better, and we’re most interested in how we can impact their journey to make it more enjoyable and less stressful.”
Target #1—the interminable wait and wasted time at the baggage carrousel: Belliotti and his IT experts created an APP that identifies a beacon on luggage so passengers are alerted when their bags slide out from the holding room. The obvious extension is to use the APP to track lost luggage.
SAN is known for its art programs and Belliotti’ s team is trying to use technology to make it better. “We want people to remember their experience at San Diego International, and we want them to talk about us in a positive way on social media.” To add to their enjoyment of the art exhibits, the Lab is creating videos that tell the backstories of each piece or share the biographies of each artist. The exhibits will use geolocation services to interact with visitors and provide supplemental digital content. A six-foot wide, 700-foot long art installation in Terminal 2 known as “The Journey” features computer-generated images displayed on 38,000 suspended LED lights. Travelers have posted their own videos of the display on YouTube thousands of times.
The “beacon” concept, used with the bag-passenger interface, is similar to Disney’s MagicBand and the potential enhancements for passengers is immense. The San Diego laboratory is testing options which may further contribute to consumer satisfaction at airports. It might be worthwhile to assess its utility beyond that dimension and consider how the individual information might improve safety and security.
The Commuter Terminal lab is also exploring how IT might be used in the maintenance of the airport. The wizards are installing weave in sensors which will send messages indicating the need for immediate repair or periodic maintenance. Again, in creating these APPs, the SAN team should include in its vision statement utilization of this IT infrastructure for other safety considerations.
Airports are slowly/reluctantly moving into SMS. If this comprehensive analytical tool would be incorporated in the San Diego Innovation Lab, the extensive IT network might also deliver tremendous safety benefits.