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Helsinki Airport Puts 'Guidance Display Card' to the Test

The handheld device contains a 433 MHz RFID tag to track a passenger's location, and an electronic-paper screen that provides flight info and updates.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 03, 2011Last month, as passengers arrived at Helsinki Airport from Asia on their way to another European destination, some used an RFID-enabled "airport guidance display card" that helped them locate their gate, learn if their departing flight had changed and navigate queues at the passport-control area. The pocketsize device, developed by Finnish RFID firm Agaidi, also worked for those seeking a flight to Asia from another European location.

The Helsinki airport, managed by Finnish airport-management group Finavia, concluded a month-long pilot last week. The pilot was designed to test the technology within a 500-meter-long (1,640-foot-long) area of the airport, in which 10 or so passengers at any given time use the device to obtain flight information. Data being collected on Agaidi's back-end software enabled the airport to learn more about the flow of traffic through its facility, and to potentially identify bottlenecks.

Agaidi's airport guidance display card
Helsinki Airport is becoming one of the primary hubs through which travelers pass between Asia and Europe. The number of international passengers has increased by more than 50 percent over the past decade, the airport reports, and another 15 percent this year. As the quantity of passengers increases, the airport has been investigating technological solutions that would allow it to improve its passenger flow.

The technology was designed to optimize airport capacity by managing real-time passenger traffic data, as well as enable airports to locate passengers arriving late to a departure gate, and provide that information to airlines. In addition, says Timo Koivisto, Finavia's passenger operations manager, the system was intended to provide "self-service guidance with passenger-specific information to ensure that passengers are at the right gate at right time for their connection flight." For passengers, the technology could also be utilized to provide information about airport services—such as cafés, restaurants and shops within the areas in which they are located—as well as instructions to help them move through passport inspection and on to the proper gate for their next flight.

For the pilot, Helsinki Airport's management wished to test how well the technology could track the movements of passengers carrying the RFID-enabled device, as well as provide useful data to those individuals. The airport will now review pilot results in order to ascertain where traffic bottlenecks might exist, as well as how they might be resolved.

In the section of the airport in which the pilot is being conducted, Agaidi installed three 433 MHz RFID readers, known as access points, complying with the ISO 18000-7 (Dash7) RFID standard, according to Marko Mattila, Agaidi's CTO. The firm also installed seven battery-powered 433 MHz beacons to identify the devices' locations as they move about the airport. Agaidi software sits on the airport's database, retrieving flight information. The tag consists of a Texas Instruments TI CC430 chip, as well as a Thinergy thin-film battery from Infinite Power Solutions. The battery self-charges via a 13.56 MHz high-frequency (HF) inductive coupling. The device can also be powered with cell batteries, in which case the battery's lifespan would be approximately three years. It fits into a pocket, and measures about 7 centimeters (2.7 inches) in width, 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) in length and 4.5 millimeters (0.2 inch) in thickness. The card includes a 2.7-inch-wide electronic-paper (e-paper) screen that can display multiple lines of text. The exact quantity of lines or characters that screen can display at any point in time is dependant on the text's font size and style.

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