Airports, blockchain and the seamless passenger journey

It may be a generation before administration is managed by machine and human contact is for assistance, exceptions and courtesy. Blockchain may be the technology that makes it all possible.

It’s May and I’m going on holiday. An alert pings onto my device telling me a vehicle has just arrived, so I go to meet it at my garden gate. Cameras buried in a dome on top of the transport have already recognised me and there’s an approval that I need to sign. After some screen tapping, I watch the bag drop vehicle glide away on its calculated route to the next customer with my luggage.

My bags have been securely accepted and biometrically associated with me. The scents from the raised beds remind me of trips I used to take, when flying needed passports and boarding passes, bank cards, bar codes, and luggage taken to the airport myself. Now all I need is me, and for my face to be visible.

In the taxi on the way to the airport I tell my assistant that I need a present for my uncle, and that I’d like to eat before the flight. It tells me with vocal pitch I can’t discern from human that there’s time to eat, books me in and offers a choice of what it knows my uncle will like. I continue to talk as the vehicle drives, “I’ll go for the phone with the one year battery. I’ll pick it up at my hotel”.

>See also: How big data is revolutionising the way people travel

At the terminal I walk through the departure gardens, security and to the restaurant. My assistant gives me directions on screen. I can’t remember when I would have dug out my boarding pass in the past, but cameras have seen me, I assume, and I’ve not been asked to stop. The food arrives shortly after I sit down. I talk with the waiter for a while.

The countdown timer on my watch shows I have 47 minutes free before boarding and I’m offered some services I’ve still got time for, but it turns out an old work colleague is nearby, so tap I ‘accept’ and we meet at the location the assistant arranges for us.

I’m getting a reminder that I need to start walking to the gate, so we say our goodbyes and I follow my directions. There’s two or three people talking to staff but most of us walk straight through to the airbridge.

At Denver the plane has landed and a squad of robot vehicles are in attendance. A coaching transport whirs us towards the terminal, precisely 30cm from the centre line. There have been no security recalls for me, so I walk out to the transit zone. I tell the car I want to go to my hotel. It reads out the address of the one I’d booked yesterday, and I say “correct”.

As I enter the reception area a host welcomes me by name. He tells me my room number, which has flashed on screen. I’ve not been asked to go to the desk, so I head to my room. The door clicks open as I approach. I’m happy to see my luggage by the bed, although I’d seen it had arrived earlier. I pick up my uncle’s new device from the table and fold my own away.

Blockchain and the seamless passenger journey

It may be a generation before such a scenario is achievable, where administration is managed by machine and human contact is for assistance, exceptions and courtesy. Smart data services mean everything is connected and, if authorised, referenceable. However, capabilities are already emerging and airports are starting to explore them. Blockchain may be the technology that makes it all possible.

>See also: How digital technology is transforming the airport

In airport terminals today, automation services such as self bag drop machines and passport gates are increasingly familiar, and biometrics is further reducing routine agent involvement. This is the vision of the ‘seamless passenger journey’.

For now, services remain relatively high friction. The passenger needs to stop to present travel documentation for the machines to read. The longer-term vision for seamless journey has the traveller proceed friction-free through process stages. Cameras mounted in discreet locations provide authentication with no need to stop or show documents. The passenger will have enrolled their facial biometric, which is recaptured and verified as the passenger walks. Only those with process exceptions receive assistance.

Blockchain to manage identity

The seamless vision relies on the continued evolution and exploitation of multiple technologies – biometrics, voice recognition, autonomous vehicles, smart data. But these aren’t necessarily the greatest challenges.

Face-on-the-move biometric camera recognition is improving rapidly and is widely expected to be perfectible. Optimists see autonomous vehicles on the road by early next decade and airports including Heathrow and Gatwick are already trialling operational airside routes. DfT-approved baggage pickup services are available now, albeit manually processed. Where many question marks and concerns exist is in how to securely manage identity, and GDPR is making this yet higher priority. This is where blockchain comes in, implementing the concept of ‘self sovereign identify’.

>See also: How technology will change your travel experience

Blockchain’s replicated ledgers, shared and synchronised among multiple independent parties, are a strong fit for the seamless journey. Blockchain is inherently secure and more secure still with self sovereign: individuals own their identity and assert it temporarily. What would be stored on the blockchain is not personal identity data, but the authorisation for a given verified data subject to conduct specific activity. An individual biometrically enrols into the system. Whilst walking through immigration, for example, cameras pick out faces and match them. Where a match is found a blockchain record confirms the passenger holds a verified passport. Non matches lead to agent intervention. This particular use case is already under development.

The ultimate end goal, however, belongs to no one organisation, or sector. No one airport, hotel chain, retailer or transport organisation can deliver these services alone. Global standards, industry collaboration and government legislation need to combine to allow service providers to exploit technological innovation to create interoperable propositions. Sector organisations become consumers and augmenters of a global capability, not its architect. But the greater the need for organisations to collaborate, with complex transactions representing legal, monetary and identity function as seamless needs, the greater the applicability of blockchain.

Whatever the challenges, the story has begun and it’s being driven enthusiastically by airports internationally today.


Sourced from Don Grose, Managing Integration Architect, Capgemini.

Related Topics