Home' Asian Aviation : AAV July-Aug 2014 Contents AsianAviation | JULY-AUG 2014 41
passenger service system, which manages all task
allocation and concierge availability. Individual
passenger information was pushed directly to the
assigned concierge's smart glasses or watch as the
passenger arrived at the Upper Class Wing.
From the moment a passenger stepped out of their
chauffeured limousine at T3 and were greeted by
name, Virgin Atlantic staff wearing the technology
would start the check-in process. Staff would also
be able to update the passenger on latest flight
information, weather and local events, with options
in the future including information on the passenger's
dietary and refreshment preferences. Virgin also
tested the Sony Smartwatch, integrated with SITA's
purpose-built dispatch app.
The main purpose of the trial was to gain insight on
wearable technology in a real-life environment, says
Kevin O'Sullivan, lead engineer at SITA Lab. SITA
Lab has been working on wearable technology since
last year, including testing and comparing different
devices and developing applications for testing. It
was one of only a few selected developers to receive
the Google Glass and Vuzix M100 devices before
their public launch.
The Virgin trial was "very successful as we all
learned a lot", says O'Sullivan. "The airline loved the
technology. Although there was some initial concern
from some concierge agents using the technology
about how it would make them look, particularly with
Glass, once the first agent led the way, the others
were quick to get behind the project," he says.
Passenger reaction was also very positive, he adds.
As watches are more discreet than Google Glass,
passengers noticed the watch less, which meant
concierges needed to explain why they kept looking
at their watches, says O'Sullivan.
Virgin Atlantic's innovation manager, Tim Graham
concurs with O'Sullivan: "The response from
passengers was extremely positive; many thought
that it was exactly the sort of pioneering and
innovative thing that Virgin Atlantic is famous for.
Passengers were impressed that concierge staff
could call up the latest information on their booking,
flight, seat options, destination weather and Flying
Club status, he adds.
Although Virgin staff found the devices comfortable
to wear, they did initially take a bit of getting used
to, concedes Graham, but by the end of the trial,
they didn't want to hand them back. "They felt that it
helped them maintain eye contact with passengers,
reduced the amount of paperwork and increased
their productivity. They also felt empowered by the
information available to them," says Graham.
SITA says wearable technology provides a
number of advantages over other means. "Wearable
technology enables new ways of working -- from
providing more personalised and hands-free
customer service to establishing more efficient
processes for both airlines and airports. In the case
of Virgin Atlantic, for example, they were able to
replace some manual operating processes using
the wearable technology, which helped to increase
efficiency," says O'Sullivan. Concierge staff could
access real-time information, allowing them to
provide a more personalised customer service, he
says. For example, they could see the latest flight
weather information at the passenger's destination.
"One of the advantages of wearable technologies
is that they can provide context-specific information
that doesn't have to be explicitly "pulled" by the user.
This means many of the tasks we might use tablets or
smartphones for today, can be simplified by wearable
devices," says O'Sullivan, pointing for example to the
use of wearable technology in the fitness world to
display real-time statistics as you exercise.
But as with any new technology there are also
issues that need addressing. Top of the list is the
fact that wearable technology needs to be more
robust and less expensive, says O'Sullivan. In
addition, in some cases battery life -- which can be
as little as 30 minutes -- and camera quality -- which
currently requires near perfect light conditions --
need to be improved, while cameras also come with
privacy issues. Wearable technology also requires
reliable wireless connectivity across the airport.
Virgin's Graham says in terms of reliability, the
watches were better as battery life wasn't an issue
and connectivity -- Bluetooth via a 3G smartphone --
worked well. Battery life on the Google Glass "wasn't
great" if used regularly for long periods of time and
there were some problems charging the device, he
says. "In addition, connectivity via Bluetooth/3G
was a bit hit and miss, but switching to a WIFi/4G
connection was much more reliable. Overall though,
the devices, applications and data feeds all worked
very well and met the requirements of the trial,"
Despite challenges, the technology offers
promise for the aviation industry and is expected to
improve, just as smartphone technology has. "The
technology is constantly evolving and we do see a
role for it in the air transport industry of the future,"
Following its trial, Virgin Atlantic is evaluating
the business case for wearable technology. "We
are currently working on plans for what a full-scale
rollout and integration of this technology would look
like, but haven't made any firm plans at this stage,"
Virgin believes wearable technology could play a
vital role within an airline to get relevant information to
passengers and employees at the point it is required.
"Some technology, such as Google Glass, is still in
its infancy but is already showing great potential.
Other technology, such as watches, are perhaps
more ready for enterprise use," says Graham.
"However, the big issues will be around reliable
connectivity and centrally managing these devises
as they cannot currently be secured sufficiently for
wide-scale enterprise deployment," he adds.
The airline isn't alone, with "a number of
airlines trialling the technology and looking at the
business case for wearable technology in areas
such as customer service, passenger check-in
and boarding, and maintenance", says O'Sullivan,
"They felt that it helped them maintain
eye contact with passengers, reduced the
amount of paperwork and increased their
productivity. They also felt empowered by
the information available to them."
Innovation Manager, Virgin Atlantic
There was initial concern from some
concierge staff about how they would
look using wearable technology.
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