Flying Spry - Getting Through The Airport Fast

If you've ever traveled, you know that the best thing about airports is getting out of them.

You're also no doubt aware that at an airport, you're under greater surveillance than just about anywhere besides the local jail.

So for most of us, being in an airport means two things, at least: 1) you'll do whatever it takes to get out of it as fast as possible, and 2) you're tacitly accepting that your presence in the airport means that you're being watched.

With these two things in mind, a multidisciplinary team from the University of Cambridge, University College London, and the University of Leeds, have been developing a Real Time Location System (RTLS) that is designed to streamline movement through airports by keeping a closer eye on everyone and everything in them.

The aim of The INtelligent Airport (TINA) project is "to develop a next generation advanced wired and wireless network for future airport environments," which may seem fairly straightforward, until you get to the detail. It turns out there are several components involved in taking RTLS to the next level.

First and foremost is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). This is the system they use to track you and your luggage, once each of you have been tagged. This type of tracking has already been tested at Copenhagen Airport, so is nothing new in itself. The key is to get it to work with the ultimate efficacy, which is where the other components come in.

These include:

  • Passenger and Data Flow Modeling, which gives the system's designers the tools to identify where and how the sensing units should be set up;
  • Highly Scalable Ethernet Infrastructure - in other words, a very adaptable system;
  • Active Tag Location, which are battery-powered tags that can be located from a large distance;
  • Passive Tag Location, for the bulk of tags - not powerful, but cheap and easy to apply; and
  • Data Overlay, or being able to piece data together from several platforms at once.

As you can see, it's quite complicated, so it may come as some surprise that a sister project is already being tested at Hong Kong International Airport, which has over 50 million passengers a year! Still, they are able to locate you within a meter of where you actually are, so it appears to be working.

And with potential retail applications also on the cards, over five years of research already undertaken, and the promise of massive cost savings for the retailers and airports that use it, it is no wonder at all that two of the primary researchers have recently been awarded the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering ERA Foundation Entrepreneurship Award for their work on TINA.

Congratulations! Now, get me out of this humongous line and let me put my shoes back on...

Here is a brief presentation on how the Passive Tag Location works: