Finding your way through a large airport can be a real challenge. The same is true for just about any complex indoor environment, but there’s just something about an airport that makes it even more harrowing. You’re pressed for time, trying to find the right gate, and worried about missing your flight. London’s second-busiest airport, Gatwick, is trying to ease that pain using iBeacons, Bluetooth devices that communicate with your iPhone to help you determine where you are. The news comes to us courtesy of TechCrunch. The Gatwick airport map is getting a much needed upgrade, technology-style, that will ease your travel woes.
What's an iBeacon Again?
Inside a large building, GPS won’t work because your device doesn’t have line of sight with the satellites. That’s where iBeacon comes into play, a mesh of Bluetooth devices that provide your iPhone with location-locked pings that help it provide you with navigation instructions and, in some cases, targeted advertisements and information based on where you are.
London’s Gatwick has already rolled out 2,000 battery-powered beacons throughout its two terminals. Those beacons will help your iPhone get a more precise location fix as you move through the airport, integrating with the Gatwick airport map to help you navigate easier. This is phase one of the project, just helping to show you where you are within the airport. Honestly, that is a huge improvement, since you can use the positioning assistance to more quickly get to the right gate (or the nearest Starbucks).
Future Plans Include Augmented Reality
Using Gatwick's upcoming augmented reality navigation, finding your way to your gate will be as easy as following the arrows.Credit: TechCrunch
The airport plans to roll out an augmented reality system using the beacons that would make it even easier to find your way. All you would need to do would be to launch an app, tell it what gate you needed to get to, and the augmented reality function will work with your iPhone’s rear-facing camera to provide you with an arrow overlaid on the ground, showing you the quickest path to where you need to go.
Other plans for the beacons include integration with the airlines to help reduce the problem of missing flights. The airlines will be able to send push notifications to passengers, letting them know if they’re running late. The system can also be used to determine whether or not to offload luggage so an aircraft can take off on time. Shopkeepers won’t have to rely just on the Gatwick airport map to let passengers know they’re there, either, since they’ll be able to use the system to “ping” possible customers passing by.
Privacy Is a Concern, Since Airport Retailers Will Access the Beacons
Retailers and other third parties within the airport will also have access to the mesh of beacons, being able to use it for proximity detection to let potential shoppers know what’s available nearby. Gatwick assures passengers that it will not be collecting any personal data from the beacons, but it will be able to improve airport operations by collecting generic information on “people densities” in different parts of the facility. Basically, the Gatwick airport map will be turned into a heat map showing congestion and bottlenecks in the flow of traffic throughout the terminals.
It's a Brave New World, and I Think I Like It
Some might have concerns about these beacons tracking their movements across the Gatwick airport map, but I suspect more good will come out of them than bad. Since the airport won’t be using the beacons to collect data beyond what is necessary to help ensure the smooth flow of operations, these devices will help speed passengers along their way. Who knows, you might even find yourself getting to the terminal quickly enough to be eligible to snag that free upgrade to a better seat.