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London Airport Enables Proximity Apps With BLE Beacons

Gatwick Airport's 2,000 Bluetooth Low Energy beacons, from Pointr Labs, are transmitting to the phones of passengers and airport personnel, so that the airport, airlines and stores can build apps that guide passengers to flights, offer them promotions at nearby stores, and provide location data to staff members responding to calls.
By Claire Swedberg
Tags: Aerospace, BLE

The apps could benefit more than just passengers, however. For instance, airlines could use the proximity-based data in their own apps to better understand where each passenger is and whether he or she will make it to a flight on time. It would also enable an airline to make an informed decision, based on a particular passenger's location, regarding whether to wait or offload a late-running passenger's luggage so that an aircraft can take off on time.

The airport intends to use the data in its existing systems as well. "We are currently integrating [the technology] into our Airport Community app," Chacko says. The goal is to enable 8,000 of the airport's 24,000 employees—who work for around 200 different organizations, including airlines, ground handlers, retailers, tenants, police and immigration—to share real-time information about their location and status. "It keeps staff 'in tune'," he explains, "by sharing real-time information with 8,000 users."

Already, Chacko reports, the app without BLE data has become essential for those who work at the airport, who use it on their personal smartphones. "We hope the new wayfaring technology will also become an essential part of the app," he states, "and we may well evolve functionality that allows staff to locate where a fault is reported from."

Chacko adds that the airport will not collect a passenger's personal data, such as that person's identity, as he or she uses the technology. However, it can utilize the beacon transmissions to measure the density of passenger traffic through beacon zones, and such transmissions could also help it to better strategize its operations in order to prevent congestion.

The battery-powered beacons have provided the airport with the benefit of keeping logistical complexity and costs low, Chacko says. The deployment took only three weeks to complete, he notes, followed by two months of testing and calibration.

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