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May 1, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 11:22am

5 things to know about London City Airport’s Internet of Things project

When will it be ready and is it profitable?

By Amy-Jo Crowley

London City Airport, which recently came under fire for making ‘no economic sense’, is the first airport in the world to test how the Internet of Things (IoT) can change a passenger’s experience of catching a flight.

From the ideas to the business model, CBR tells you five things you need to know about the project.

1. How does it work?

Retail developer Milligan and technology firm LivingPlanIt won £800,000 of funding from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board’s (TSB) in March 2013 to create a network of sensors and data for existing passengers at London City.

Known as the Internet of Things, the technology allows a variety of devices or machines to communicate with each other in order to improve efficiency and costs.

Andrew Tyrer, lead technologist for digital at TSB, told CBR that the airport’s network will consist of interconnected sensors and other deployments that allow ready communication between TSB’s seven other IoT projects.

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"We built a model, called Hypercat, which shares data across different platforms. So LivingPlanetIt could go to any of the other seven projects we funded as long as they’re given permission," he explained.

"It’s only by sharing that data that the IoT will be successful and that’s one of the primary reasons we ran the competition the way we did. We’re encouraging them, in fact, making them interoperate."

2. What are the ideas?

The possibilities for IoT applications are endless, according to Tyrer, and include location tracking, measuring journey time and special offers.

The technology would run off Living PlanIT’s urban operating system, which enables apps and other digital tools to function.

For instance, passengers who pre-order food online or through their smartphone could have it delivered to them as they arrive at the departure lounge, while retailers can track when a passenger arrives at the airport, monitoring their behaviour to offer shoppers customised offers and ads.

Facial recognition software is also being used at London City, helping it monitor where passengers are and predict and prevent queues.

It can also track passengers and their luggage at the same time, so if you find yourself missing your plane, your luggage won’t get boarded.

"It’s all about presenting a better passenger journey in the airport. The more efficiently you can do that not only the better the passenger experience but the better the cost savings for the airport or the retailers," explained Tyrer.

3. When will it be ready to use?

The project, which is also being delivered by IBM, Hitachi and Philips, is now at the ‘demonstrator stage’ after the first trial was completed in March 2014.

"They’ve build the basic infrastructure and the hub, and they’re at a point where I would hope they can show you their app and show you the journey you might start to take," said Tyrer.

TSB also announced a second competition to fund one more project out of the eight contenders and the deadline is in August 2014.

"Whether they win or lose this competition, they’re not going to turn their hub off. They’re going to continue using their hub in some shape or form," he said.

4. Is it profitable?

London City came under fire last month for making poor use of land and creating insufficient economic benefits.

A report from the New Economics Foundation said the airport would be better closed to build more homes for the capital and boost local businesses.

Jamie Moss, a senior analyst for IoT at Ovum, sees the IoT project lifting the airport’s revenues with targeted advertising acting as a key source of growth.

"It benefits retailers simply because it gives them the opportunity to push targeted advertising to customers that are maybe known to have a profile that matches with products that they would normally sell," he explained.

He added: "It does make sense to trial this kind of stuff because until people test the effects of it and find out what is possible to do with it, they’re never going to be able to say for sure just how valuable it is and how much money is, therefore, worth committing to similar projects at other airports."

5. What about privacy?

There are also concerns about safety and privacy issues as the airport increases its dependency on IoT, according to Tyrer.

"It certainly is something to be aware of and all of the projects have got data controllers to look at how they might protect that data. And all of them have put measures in place to make sure that any propriety data is handled sensitively especially if you’re starting to share data," he said.

For Moss, privacy isn’t really an issue because all the data should be anonymous.

"Some of the things they’re going to be doing will be tied into the airlines and services so they know where specific passengers are in the airport but that doesn’t mean that everything will be monitored and everything that will be logged will have somebody’s face and name associated with it," he explained.

"I have yet to see any particular evidence to suggest that it should be more of threat now than it has been in the past."


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