Google’s internet-enabled eyewear, Glass, is undoubtedly
the star of a nascent market in wearable computers. But while BBC News has
reported that the tech giant won’t sell Glass until late 2014 at the
earliest, airlines are already anticipating how it – and computerised
spectacles like it – might someday improve security and other vital airport
Nerdy or not, here it
In a demonstration at London’s Heathrow Airport, Kevin O’Sullivan, the lead engineer
at SITA, a Geneva-headquartered technology consortium owned by the airline industry, donned
his Google Glass headset and held up a passenger’s barcoded luggage tag. The
device’s camera scanned the barcode, successfully crosschecking it against
airport and airline databases, giving agents a real life solution to quickly
locate the whereabouts of a missing bag.
solution contrasts with today’s situation, where travellers needing help must
hunt down the lost-luggage desk that’s staffed by the employees of a specific
airline. Wearable technology would give any official roaming an airport the
ability to fetch details about a lost bag and travellers could save time by
approaching the first representative they saw, regardless of airline
If there were a language barrier that made communication with a
traveller more difficult, the agent could also request a translation by saying,
"OK, Glass: how do you say, ‘Please give me your baggage tag’ in
at the airline gate, smart glasses could improve the customer experience.
“Instead of an agent spending the entire time looking down at documents or their computers, he or she can look
directly at passengers, while occasionally glancing at the heads-up
display," O’Sullivan said.
Besides Google, other
manufacturers such as Vuzix, Recon Instruments, NTT Docomo are also working
to develop smart glass products.
A fresh look at
Time is money for airlines, which get charged for the time they spend at the
gate, and smart glasses could theoretically be used to help agents check
passenger identification more quickly, therefore saving carriers time and gate
a passenger steps forward to get on a flight, an agent could hold up the
boarding pass and passport in front of their smart glasses, scanning barcodes
on the two documents simultaneously.
If the passenger’s name
on the documents matched each other and also matched the airline’s flight
records, the agent would see a green light on his or her heads-up display
telling them to let the passenger board. If the records didn’t match, agents
would review the passenger’s documents according to old-fashioned procedure,
said O’Sullivan, whose team has been testing the concept.
Of course, security
checkpoint agents, such as the Transportation Security Administration in the
US, could also adopt smart glasses to help speed up identification.
six months of testing, SITA has found that Glass isn’t yet fast enough to work
accurately in a real setting for boarding pass identification. One glitch: the
first generation smart glasses have fixed focus, low resolution cameras, which
require agents to hold up papers at a very specific distance to be correctly
O’Sullivan is trying to
see if tweaks could make the process work and is hopeful that smart glasses may
improve with time. SITA plans to run limited trials with real passengers in mid-2014.
Vision of the future
Even if smart glasses improve, no technology is perfect. Passengers may still
face hassles and unpleasant surprises. A crinkled boarding pass or smudged
mobile device screen -- or even a person holding a document at the wrong angle
relative to the lens – could prevent a camera from functioning well.
There could also be
snafus in cases where agents may be making a visual confirmation that the
person in the passport photo, or other government-issued ID, matches the face
of the passenger. If the passenger looks different than their photo, agents may
to pull him or her over for additional questioning.
Privacy concerns are
another potential drawback. Procedures will have to be put in to place to make
sure any information collected isn’t shared in an inappropriate way.
It may be a few years off, but the future face of air
travel may very well be wearing a pair of smart glasses.
Sean O’Neill is the future of travel
columnist for BBC Travel