Proximity and Geolocation Solution Tracks Air Passenger Baggage

By Claire Swedberg

Amadeus has teamed up with Sigfox to offer an IoT-based solution that tracks the locations of bags or assets inside and outside of airports to reduce the risk of loss.

Travel technology company Amadeus has developed a new solution using Internet of Things (IoT)-based technology from Sigfox to bring location visibility to passenger luggage at airports and beyond. The solution is intended to help airlines and airports better manage the flow of luggage and ensure that no bags end up missing, while information could also be shared with passengers. The companies' Pinpoint Alliance solution consists of battery-powered IoT trackers attached to luggage, which transmit a signel via Sigfox's OG Network, along with Amadeus's management software. The system can be used to track assets for airports and airlines.

Amadeus is a European-based IT company that offers solutions to connect travelers with agents, search engines, tour operators, airlines, airports, hotels, cars and railways, according to Marion Mesnage, the firm's research head for innovation and ecosystems. The company has developed technology-based solutions in partnership with the travel industry for more than 30 years, she says, and has helped connect more than 1.6 billion people annually to local travel providers in more than 190 countries.

Recently, Mesnage reports, Amadeus has begun offering a platform approach to its products. For airlines, that means enabling self-service functions that airlines can provide to their customers. By tracking the location of luggage, she says, "Their day-to-day will be easier to manage, allowing them to integrate technologies and services from Amadeus or from other partners and developers."

For airports, the company offers applications and solutions that enable them to respond to changing situations. "With flights, passengers and baggage to manage," Mesnage explains, "airports can have clear visibility on each turnaround activity and make informed decisions, thanks to real-time information shared between airport partners and systems."

PinPoint offers luggage and airport asset-management systems. "Luggage is a very important topic," Mesnage says, "both for travelers and travel providers." Transferring assets, including bags, from one aircraft or airline to another can be challenging, she says. There are multiple technologies that can identify and locate bags at airports. The International Air Transport Association (IATA)'s Resolution 753, passed in 2018, has already dictated that airlines must employ an identification system capable of detecting when a bag passes through specific zones, using UHF RFID-based tags or other technologies.

While RFID can identify specific events, such as when a bag is loaded onto a plane or placed on a conveyor in the baggage-claim area, Amadeus's Sigfox-based system would know the general location at all times if the baggage tracker were turned on, explains Guérin Vong, Sigfox's IoT agency business strategy director. That means knowing not only when a bag is loaded onto a plane, but also when it is in a duty-free area, a restaurant or a car travelling away from the airport. It can accomplish this because Sigfox networks are already in place in many parts of the world, and thus can provide the general location of a Sigfox device.

To date, the Sigfox network is available across 67 countries, while more than 300 airports are already covered with Sigfox technology. The PinPoint information could augment RFID data, Vong notes, by providing locations beyond RFID reader zones. Inside airports, PinPoint can include Sigfox's proximity detection to identify a tagged item's location within a configurable range from 1 to 100 meters (3.3 to 328 feet).

Proximity detection creates what Sigfox calls a "virtual bubble," in which Sigfox beacons, known as Bubbles, are installed at flight gates and other point of interest for an airline or airport to create a zone. The Bubbles, in prototype form, are about the size and shape of a computer mouse, but they will be larger and more robust for airport environments, the companies report. Passengers would be provided with a reusable tracker to attach to their luggage. Initially, the tag is available in prototype versions and will be reusable with a built-in battery. Once acquired by a passenger, it can be attached to luggage and turned on and off so that it will only be tracked when powered on.

The unique ID number encoded on each tag is linked to a specific passenger's information. As that individual's luggage moves through an airport, the trackers will listen for an interrogation from the Bubbles via a short-range Sigfox signal. Once they receive one, they will identify which Bubble it is, such as one installed at Gate 16, based on its own ID, and then forward that data to the software via a Sigfox transmission.

The system continues to track the tag's location after the tagged suitcase leaves the airport. At that point, it is linked to geolocation-based positioning. "As soon as you leave the airport," Vong says, "we are able [via the Sigfox network] to provide a geolocation that is less accurate than proximity location," but which provides a general location. In that way, if a bag is leaving the airport or is moving toward the wrong terminal, that data could also be collected, and an alert could be issued so personnel can intervene.

"We don't want to compete with RFID or other technologies—we are complementary to them," Vong says. "We know RFID is very accurate and reliable, but it cannot be installed everywhere in an airport due to the cost of the reader infrastructure."

Amadeus already offers a solution to track luggage movement, in order to comply with the IATA resolution, using QR codes and Amadeus's Baggage Reconciliation System cloud-based software. "Now, we are working to further improve the tracking and management of luggage," Mesnage states, "and this is what we do with this partnership with Sigfox."

Amadeus and Sigfox have been developing the solution throughout the past year, Vong says. During the first semester of 2020, several companies will continue piloting the solution, and Amadeus will offer pilots at other locations. One such pilot already under way involves identifying where bags are located as they move throughout an airport. The other involves the tracking of unit load devices, the containers used to hold bags in an airport's security checkpoint area. "These explorations are being done with different customers in different areas of the world," Mesnage says.

In the long run, the PinPoint system is expected to help airlines and airports to reduce the amount of lost luggage, as well as enable them to share information with travelers regarding bag status and location. Both airports and airlines manage thousands of assets on a daily basis, Mesnage explains, both within and moving between airports. "There is indeed an opportunity to improve the tracking of these assets to optimize operations and better serve the traveler during its journey," he says.