Mar 27, 2018While radio frequency identification (RFID) and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are becoming common for tracking luggage as it moves through airports and between flights, one new solution is focusing technology on the location and well-being of a plane's living cargo—namely, passengers' pets.
This month, Unisys released globally an IoT-based solution known as Digi-Pet that provides passenger pet-owners with a view into their animals' environment as they are being transported to the belly of an airplane, and again when they are removed from the plane until they are delivered to the owner or agent. The system employs Wi-Fi and cellular networks to share sensor data with Unisys software, which then shares that information with an app. The system has been available and in trials in the Asia-Pacific region for about a month.
The IoT-based pet-monitoring app was conceived of by Dheeraj Kohli, Unisys's global leader for travel and transportation vertical industry business. Four years ago, he bought a pug puppy named Buster for his daughter, but hadn't thought much about the challenges the dog would pose when it came to flying. When the family had to move by air four months later, Buster came with them, of course. However, he says, arranging airline transport for his latest family member proved more difficult than he'd expected. To meet the size and weight limitations that the airline dictated for a dog, Kohli had to travel with the puppy before he got any bigger, which meant moving two months early and then living and working out of a pet-friendly hotel.
At the time, Kohli thought that travel for pets should be easier. Since then, he notes, there have been many cases of pets being injured or even dying during transportation (see Dog Dies In Overhead Bin On United Flight; Airline Apologizes, for instance). So he began considering IoT-based solutions and received the support of Unisys to build one. Unisys's tagline, Kohli says, is "enhancing the lives of people." Therefore, he recalls, "I thought, why not enhance the lives of [other] living beings?" The result is Digi-Pet, and Unisys is currently in discussions with several airlines about adopting the technology.
The hardware requirements are minimal, Kohli reports. Pet owners simply need a kennel for their animal, with a Digi-Pet sensor attached. The sensors are made to specification for Unisys by a third-party supplier, and the system requires that users have a smartphone to view sensor data.
An individual who wants to book his or her pet on a flight can simply go to an airline that offers the Digi-Pet system. The traveler can request the system and select from a variety of sensor data offerings to track the pet's journey. The system can monitor temperature and humidity levels, as well as identify any shocks that could occur from their pets being handled roughly or dropped, or due to turbulence during flights. It also comes with a camera so that a pet owner can view the animal inside the kennel in real time while it is on its way to or from the plane. The airline can then charge a passenger for each additional sensor-based piece of information.
To sign up, a user provides a photograph of his or her pet. Based on that picture, the software uses artificial intelligence to identify the breed. The pet owner also provides the pet's weight and name, then selects a kennel, which comes with the system (alternatively, the user can bring his or her own kennel), along with the data to which he or she wants to have access.
Upon arriving at the airport, the passenger drops the pet at the airline's luggage check-in area. The kennel, whether it belongs to the airline or to the pet owner, has a Digi-Pet sensor attached to it, with a camera on the device facing in at the animal. As the pet is transported from that area to the plane, its owner can access data regarding the animal's conditions (such as the surrounding temperature), along with GPS data indicating the pet's exact location, and can also view the pet inside the kennel, provided that this service has been requested.
The sensor data is sent at regular intervals to the Digi-Pet software, via Wi-Fi or cellular transmission, and the software then forwards that information to the server so the user can view it on an Android- or iOS-based device. If the sensor data has exceeded acceptable parameters—such as if an animal is being exposed to temperatures that are too high or low for that breed's health—the owner will receive an alert on the app. The airline also receives that information. For the pet owner, there is a prompt on the app to contact the airline directly about the pet's health, so that an airline employee can correct any problems that might arise in real time.
While the data is transmitted by either Wi-Fi or cellular networks, Kohli says, he also examined other technologies, such as Bluetooth Low energy (BLE) beacons. But the data, he notes, would only be sent when the kennel was within range of the beacon device, as opposed to in real time across an entire airport.
Until inflight wireless communications, such as cellular transmission, are allowed during flight, pet owners cannot access the data while a plane is in the air. Instead, the data is collected throughout the flight, so that the historical conditions can be accessed after the plane has landed.
By tracking an animal's conditions and location at an airport, Kohli explains, the system may tend to make airport and airline workers more diligent. That, he says, is because the presence of monitoring technology will likely encourage employees to treat the kennels with greater care.
It took the Unisys team approximately four months to build the system, Kohli reports. "One of the greatest challenges," he recalls, "was finding the right device" to capture, store and send data. Once the team specified the device, which can store data for approximately 15 hours, they found that it worked well.
Gaining the interest of airlines was another potential problem, Kohli says, but so far, the technology has been well received by airlines, several of which are now in discussions with Unisys to adopt the system. Because the software stores all historic data regarding the conditions around each pet, airlines can use the collected data for analytics purposes as well. For instance, an airline could view the conditions to which animals are typically exposed, as well as how their health may or may not be affected.
Unisys has been invited to speak with the Animal Transportation Association (ATA) in regard to how the technology could be used with other animals beyond pets. ATA's global mission is to enable human transportation of all kinds of animals—race horses, for example, are often transported by air. According to Kohli, the technology could track how best to confine and transport a variety of animals to ensure their safety and comfort.