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Copenhagen Airport Pilots RFID Tags for Passengers
The airport is testing a system combining active RFID and Bluetooth technologies to create a detailed flow map of passenger traffic through the terminal, enabling it to reduce delays and improve its layout.
May 30, 2008—Today's modern airports are often huge and filled with stores, restaurants and other distractions. But that size frequently means passengers must walk far from a terminal's central area to reach their gates.
At Copenhagen Airport, approximately 4 percent of all flight delays are caused by passengers arriving late at a gate. To alleviate that problem, and to help plan retail strategy, the airport is testing a system combining active RFID and Bluetooth mobile phone technologies to track passengers' locations within the terminal. The system alerts customers via cell phone if it detects them to be far from the gate as their flight begins boarding.
The system, known as Gatecaller, employs credit-card-sized, battery-powered RFID tags transmitting at a frequency of 433.92 MHz, which passengers receive upon checking in, then return upon boarding. Gatecaller is being developed by a consortium that includes Lyngsoe Systems, Copenhagen Airport, the IT University of Copenhagen, Blip Systems and the Riso National Laboratory.
At present, the consortium is halfway through a three-year project dubbed SPOPOS (the Danish acronym for "tracking technology personal and operator services"), to develop and test technology for tracking people and objects. SPOPOS is backed by a $2.7 million grant from the Danish government.
On May 15, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) took part in a successful live trial that involved providing the tags (provided by Lyngsoe) to 106 passengers from one of its flights, then registering their names and cell phone numbers. The consortium installed RFID readers supplied by Lyngsoe, as well as Bluetooth transmitters from Blip Systems, at 25 key "gateway" points throughout the terminal to track passengers passing those locations.
"Overall, for SAS, it's obvious we have to participate in a project that makes travel more efficient and smooth," says Mikkel Londahl, a spokesman for the airline. "We are pretty sure this technology can help us achieve more punctual departures."
According to Henrik Bjorner Soe, the marketing manager at Copenhagen Airport, which initiated the project, the RFID system will reduce stress for passengers and further the airport's goal of being "silent"—that is, without frequent calls for passengers over the public address system. "We have 300 personal calls every day over our loudspeakers calling passengers to the gate," Soe says. "This is because we do not know which passengers are close to the gate and which passengers are far away from the gate."
As a flight prepares to board, the system codes the appropriate passengers with a red, yellow or green designation, based upon their projected walking distance from the gate. On a computerized map, those near the proper gate appear as green dots. Yellow dots indicate passengers who are some distance away, but who will be able to make the flight, so the system calls or sends a text message warning them about the impending takeoff. Red passengers are far enough away that they will not likely be able reach the gate in time to make their flight; if necessary, airline personnel can pull those customers' bags from the aircraft and begin rebooking them.
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