Unleashing the Full Potential of RTLS and Location Data Insights in Airports
We’ve written before about how Real Time Location Services (RTLS) and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity have applications in many spaces and verticals that might surprise anyone who still thinks they belong in factories, industrial spaces and warehouses.
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Airports have been at the forefront of innovation when it comes to applying automation, IoT, digital transformation and more. Recent years have also seen the adoption of processes powered by location data gathered from RTLS. With so many different use cases under one very big roof, it’s no surprise that airports are increasingly turning to location data to support various components of their operations, creating efficiencies that are fundamental to the profitability of any enterprise.
Although the passengers passing through may not think of it in these terms, airports are operated as a business and questions of costs and efficiency are of primary concern to airport management. As an often very large and always complex operation, airports feature many processes and use cases that are ideally suited to the strengths and functionalities of systems that collect location-based data. The application of this data to various processes in airports brings efficiencies and improvements that only results from better visibility into the movements of people and things.
Here are four areas where the implementation of RTLS in airports delivers immediate business benefits.
It’s hard to think of another environment more appropriate for wayfinding applications than an airport. A complex space with lots of turns, levels and destinations spread out over an enormous space? Check. Lots of first-time visitors who are unfamiliar with the layout? Check. People with little time or desire to stop and look at a map? Nearly every one of those people with Bluetooth-enabled smartphones ready to connect? Stressful situations where sometimes every second counts? Check, check and check.
Wayfinding gets people where they need to go quickly and easily, which addresses the most obvious pain point experienced by millions of travelers every day in airports around the world. No matter how convinced you are that your airport is easy to navigate, you can be sure that, probably right at this very moment, someone with time, mobility or language issues is looking around and thinking “I need help and I need it now”.
Using location data, you can build applications that guide passengers to their destinations, making their experience in your facility more satisfying and less stressful. As they move around terminals, shopping or dining areas or any other part of the building, passengers can get real-time updates on their progress towards their gate, nearby amenities or anything else. With wayfinding, even first-time visitors can feel relaxed and comfortable in looking around (and possibly making purchases) if they have time to kill or confident they can make their flight in time because the wayfinding application tells them how far away they are from where they need to be. Either way, wayfinding based on location data provided by RTLS guides visitors through an unfamiliar and complex environment, significantly adding to their overall experience and reinforcing a positive impression of the time they spend there before moving on.
Think of wayfinding as part of the kind of customer satisfaction that a more conventional, retail-oriented business would be concerned with. These days, with near universal smartphone penetration among airport passengers, a smooth, trouble-free and usually phone-based experience is more expectation than surprising extra for airports. There’s no difference between customers and passengers in this context and making it easy for them to find their way around is key to getting the good reviews, repeat business and recommendations that impact the bottom line of any enterprise—store, airport or anything else.
Asset tracking and location
Airports are filled with thousands of passengers and personnel. They contain a number of unique and distinct environments, each with their own routines, supplies, equipment, procedures and regulations. There are tons of cargo and equipment in areas all over the facility. Nearly around the clock, it seems that everyone and everything is moving in all directions at once. All of this adds up to a bewildering combination of assets that move around both wide open spaces and dense, crowded environments. There are high-value pieces of machinery that are rarely used and relatively inexpensive items that are in constant demand. The use of some of them is documented and tracked while others tools and equipment are just assumed to be handy when needed.
It just takes a moment for all these moving parts to scatter and reassemble in new configurations, making it easy to lose track of the tools, machines and other assets that keep operations moving forward. And when these moving parts are unavailable, even for a short period, the loss in time, money and efficiency can be significant.
Unfortunately, the airport environment is ideal for losing track of assets of every size and type. And when you need, for example, a wheelchair now, there’s no time to waste searching and asking and trying to track one down. Instead, wouldn’t it just be easier to check a screen and find out right away?
Of course it would. With the information provided by location data, you can immediately determine where any tagged asset is. With RTLS data, you can start your search knowing exactly where and how far you have to go to find a wheelchair, luggage trolley or any one of the hundreds of other items that are easily misplaced in an airport.
The scale of the airport environment isn’t a problem, either. Collectively, sensors located throughout the facility can track the location and movement of thousands of assets in real time.
RTLS-based monitoring works indoors and outdoors, which is especially relevant to airports given the number of workspaces that are spread out over both kinds of areas. There are lots of tools and pieces of equipment that are stored in, for example, a warehouse or hangar but are used and left idle on tarmacs. Location tracking does not interfere with the use of the tools in anyway and their presence can be determined as long as they are within the range of a sensor. Should it be necessary to expand that range for any reason, it’s as easy as adding more sensor coverage.
Asset tracking impacts an airport’s bottom line by delivering accurate visibility into current inventories. Are you short-handed on a particular item or category or are you not using what you have efficiently? If you really do need to invest in more assets of a certain type, how many do you really need? These are the kinds of questions that are more easily answered when you can track what you have, locate it when you need it and avoid capital investments of all kinds being lost in the many back rooms and high shelves of an enormous airport. Overspending on unnecessary inventory can be eliminated with smarter decisions informed by location data.
Tracking staff arrival, departure and location
Like manufacturing facilities, airports can employ a huge number of personnel working over large areas in shifts starting at all times of the day and night and who enter and exit through multiple points. There are lots of opportunities for manual timekeeping and conventional time clock measurements to fail through human error or theft of time.
With easily-carried personalized tags, the arrival and departure times of staff can be precisely recorded and saved via RTLS. The moment they are within or out of range of a sensor, that event is instantly saved, creating a completely accurate and reliable record of their presence on site. There’s no need for time cards and no need to remind staff to clock in or out. Given the size of the staff in airports, even a small percentage of forgotten or missed time clock punches can scale up to a big problem. Investigating and correcting missing times is an administrative burden and a potentially costly source of wasted time and resources. With the complete automation made possible by location data, the accuracy of your record keeping goes up while costs and headache go way down.
The same functionality also tells you where any given employee is at any moment, at least within a certain small distance. This can be useful in any number of contexts, from locating them when other forms of communication are ineffective to counting nearby team members to help an understaffed location or ensuring that everyone has been cleared out during an emergency evacuation.
Bluetooth is big, but small platforms are catching up
When we talk about the applications of RTLS technology, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all answer for every deployment. The physical areas to be covered vary greatly in their sizes, shapes and environmental factors. The use cases and needs differ, as do the kinds of hardware appropriate for a particular deployment. This variation also increasingly applies to the technology platform that delivers the location data that is turned into business benefits.
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) has established itself as the leader in this field due to its ideal combination of features, including signal stability, extreme energy efficiency and easy integration with the existing worldwide Bluetooth ecosystem, among other things. However, there are several other technologies that are gaining ground in the world of RTLS because of unique characteristics that are well-matched to particular location data use cases.
In particular, Ultra Wide Band (UWB) and Narrow Band Internet of Things (NBIoT) are becoming the platforms of choice for deployments that need to leverage their particular strengths. Both platforms offer extreme energy efficiency while separately providing functionalities that far exceed the performance of BLE in certain areas like secure data transmission, the size of the data packets delivered, number of connections handled at once, integration into cellular networks and more. Will either of these platforms overtake BLE as the industry’s dominant standard? Only time will tell, but it’s worth learning something about multiple platforms when considering what you need your RTLS deployment to do.
To learn more about these and other technologies, download Kontakt.io’s Essential Guide to Asset Tracking Solutions.
Safety and Security
Controlling and recording access to various areas in an airport is fundamental to its operations. Airports are full of zones that are restricted for a number of reasons and security considerations are particularly sensitive. Add multiple layers of government-imposed regulations and the need for a reliable, facility-wide system for managing access is clear.
With RLTS, not only can management of regulating access to certain areas of a facility be automated, but the time of every entry and exit, along with the identity of the staff member, can be accurately recorded and archived. While measures like cameras and security staff are not likely to be fully replaced, location data-based systems can provide a level of reach and reliability unequalled by other components of a comprehensive security network.
Safety is a related but distinct idea to security. It also involves regulating access to certain areas but concentrates more on making sure that only authorized personnel are allowed into areas with environmental hazards. With its machinery, vehicles and complex processes at work behind the scenes, providing safe working conditions for airport employees is a real challenge. Incidents can be reduced when unauthorized staff are denied entry into zones where they are not qualified to be. When accidents do happen, RTLS can provide documentation important to the legal aspects of the resolution of accidents.
What about when someone does enter a room, zone or even building where they shouldn’t be? Again, RTLS is there to help. The system can be set to send instant alerts to the relevant office, team or individual when there is a breach of the security or safety protocols, giving them time to react and possibly prevent injury or loss. When invisible lines are crossed, RTLS can react in real time and help to stop trouble before it starts.
This extends beyond staff and personnel to assets. When tagged, assets can set off an alert when they are taken beyond predefined borders. The opportunities for preventing loss through theft or misuse are clear.
Here are some of the main business benefits of using RTLS for safety and security in airports:
- Cut costs – Automated management of secured zones reduces the need for security staffing and monitoring while helping to keep assets where they should be
- Enhanced security – Reliable, always-on monitoring eliminates human error and lapses in patrols
- Prevent accidents – By keeping unauthorized personnel away from potentially hazardous areas and equipment, accidents can be avoided
- Reduce theft – Airports are full of valuables and cargo in transit that can be better safeguarded through careful management and recording of individuals granted access to where they are stored
- Employee safety – Tags connected to the wireless network and worn by staff can be equipped with panic buttons, allowing them to call for help when in distress or requiring emergency assistance
This is just a general overview of some of the more useful applications of RTLS in airports. If you would like more detailed information or looking for an end to end RTLS solution make sure to contact us today.