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How airport tech is trying to overcome Covid-19 restrictions

From touchless kiosks to using your face as a passport, here are some of the innovations helping to keep passengers safe while at the airport.   

Air travel took a hit from the Covid-19 pandemic, and still hasn’t recovered. The number of travelers in the US alone is down well over 50%, according to the TSA, as concerns around safety on planes and in airports still weigh on potential customers. Airports continue to look to low-tech solutions like masks and social distancing to help reduce the risk of Covid-19, but some are also turning to technology to boost safety and bolster consumer confidence.

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Below, we take a close look at some of the technology aiming to make the passenger’s journey through the airport safer during the pandemic.  From touchless kiosks to using your face as a passport, here are some of the innovations helping to keep passengers safe while at the airport.

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ENTRY: THERMAL CAMERAS & PASSENGER FLOW ANALYTICS

Some airports are turning to thermal cameras to reduce the risk of infectious passengers entering the building by flagging those with potential fevers. Though not all individuals with the virus show signs of a fever, thermal cameras could help to slow the spread of disease and are already being piloted by airports like Heathrow Airport in London.

These cameras may also track passenger entry and exit, potentially allowing airport staff to identify high-flow areas and intervene when overcrowding occurs.

CHECK-IN: TOUCHLESS KIOSKS

Much of the airport check-in process is already completed online or at touchscreen kiosks, without the need to interact with airline staff. However, some airlines are taking it one step further. Check-in can be facilitated by self-service kiosks equipped with no-touch features like voice and facial recognition.

This tech can also be used for passenger virus screening. For example, Elenium Automation recently partnered with Amazon Web Services to launch a touchless self-service kiosk that includes vital sign detection technology — which can measure everything from heart rate to body temperature using infrared and thermal imaging — at airports.

SECURITY CHECKPOINT: SMART SCHEDULING & 3D BAG MODELING

The security line is high-risk, with plenty of opportunities to spread the virus, from crowded lines to removal of liquids and electronics to TSA agents handling IDs, tickets, and personal items.

Some airports are exploring tech that schedules passengers into a security line to prevent overcrowding, or biometrics like facial recognition to keep TSA agents from handling passenger identification or tickets.

Others are looking into more advanced screening methods to reduce in-person baggage testing. For example, the TSA recently unveiled CT scanners at the Miami International Airport that create 3D models of bags to better detect dangerous materials or threats without having to handle the baggage. The scanners also allow passengers to leave electronics and laptops within their bags, removing an additional touchpoint and helping to reduce the threat of virus spread.

GATE & COMMON AREAS: AUTONOMOUS ROBOT CLEANERS

Industrial roaming robot cleaners equipped with UV light to kill pathogens like Covid-19 may become regular sights at the gate. For example, the Pittsburgh International Airport was already using autonomous robot cleaners before the pandemic, but worked with startup Carnegie Robotics once the crisis started to add a UV-C component to the robots to sanitize the floors without exposing passengers or employees to the harmful rays.

This may help provide peace of mind for passengers and allow cleaning staff to focus their sanitizing efforts on more high-touch areas like door handles or handrails.


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