Technology

Two great ideas for COVID-safe airport elevators

Airports everywhere are doing whatever they can to make their terminals safe and sanitary for your safety.

In addition to cleaning systems for handrails on stairways and escalators, some airports are also trying out new ways to bring a touchless experience to elevators.

Here’s what two airports, Tucson International Airport (TUS) and Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) are doing with their elevators.

Let us know which you think is best.

At Tucson International Airport, all five pre-security elevators now have toe-tap buttons.

The buttons are installed to limit the potential spread of COVID-19, but they also seem like they’ll be handy for a wide variety of situations.

And at Toronto Pearson, the route to a touchless elevator ride is a bit more high tech.

The airport is testing a system that lets riders operate the elevator from their smartphones.

Users download an app that has an elevator button interface that can be used instead of the physical elevator buttons to select a destination.

Of course, you could use a tissue, a key, or an elbow to push the button on an airport elevator – or any elevator. But why do that when you can use a toe-tap or an app?

More robots to help keep travelers safe and sanitized

We adore the rolling little “Ask me!” robots some airports have hired to answer questions and help passengers find their way around.

But they seem more entertainment than essential.

But thanks to the pandemic, robots are getting a promotion at many airports – as super cleaners.

Robots clean up before we fly

Airports and airlines are scrambling to get the latest technology in place to keep terminal spaces and airline cabins disinfected and sanitized.

And robots are doing their part.

In May, Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) and Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Robotics put a pair of self-driving, robot floor scrubbers on duty.

In July, JetBlue kicked off a 90-day pilot program at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) to evaluate Honeywell’s UV Cabin System.

These robots use ultraviolet light to clean an aircraft cabin in about 10 minutes.

Other airports and airlines have deployed robot-like tools as well.

And now San Antonio International Airport (SAT) enters the picture with its shiny new purchase: the Xenex LightStrike robot.

This robot is billed as “the only ultraviolet (UV) room disinfection technology proven to deactivate SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19.”

SAT says the LightStrike uses environmentally-friendly pulsed xenon and can disinfect an area in less than 10-15 minutes without warm-up or cool-down time. They plan to use it pretty much everywhere in the airport, including jet bridges, gate areas, ticketing counters, baggage claim, concessions, elevators, and restrooms.

And it looks like the LightStrike robot is here to stay. SAT airport plans to have a contest to give the robot a name.

Hot or not? This U.S. airport testing for fevers.

Courtesy Paine Field Airport

What will air travel be like once the ‘stay home’ advisories are lifted?

Here’s a preview:

The passenger terminal at Paine Field (PAE) in Everett, WA, north of Seattle, just installed a fever detection system. The system is non-invasive, non-contact and scans passengers in the security checkpoint area to see if they’re running a fever.

Systems like this are in use in many Asian airports and in other parts of the world. But this seems to be the first time a fever detection system has been installed at a U.S. airport.

How does the Elevated Body Temperature Detection system work?

How does the Elevated Body Temperature Detection system work? Here’s how Athena Security describes it:

“The system identifies the face of the subject, ignores hot spots like hot lights above and other hot objects on the person like a cell phone or hot coffee. The person looks at the camera and the system finds the hottest point on the face near the eyes, called the inner canthus. Near the eyes is the area that most closely correlates with basal body temperature, so the subject needs to remove glasses and look at the camera.”

Athena Security also notes that the fever detection system only identifies elevated temperature. It does not diagnose any disease or virus, such as COVID-19.

The Paine Field passenger terminal is operated by Propeller Airports, which says the system is installed and operating in the area before the TSA checkpoint, which the airport, not TSA, controls.

Any passenger flagged as having a temperature will be offered secondary screening. If a fever is confirmed, “the passenger and the airline will determine their ability to travel,” Propeller Airports said in a statement.

While the fever detection system it is not a TSA-sponsored initiative, “the agency supports efforts by airports and airlines that help reduce the spread of the virus and allow a prudent return to normal operations,” TSA spokesman Lorie Dankers told Stuck at The Airport via email.

The fever detection is not the only innovative safety technology at Paine Field Airport. Last month the airport began using an innovative and proprietary UV technology to disinfect the terminal.  

The small Paine Field passenger terminal in Everett, WA opened in March 2019. Before schedule reductions due to COVID-19, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines were operating about 24 flights a day from PAE

What do you think? Are you willing to have your temperature taken at the airport?

Korean Air: behind the scenes, tech-wise

Last month I joined Korean Air as a judge for a kids art show in LA, a paint-the-plane event in Seoul, and a tour of the airline’s farm, water bottling plant and various tech centers.

Here are some snaps and part of the story about the tech center and engine test cell I put together for USA Today’s Today in the Sky.

At its sprawling Tech Center in the port city of Busan, South Korea, Korean Air performs a wide variety of services for its own fleet and for many other airlines. In Incheon, Korean Air and aerospace manufacturer Pratt Whitney operate the world’s largest engine test facility as a joint venture.

The Paint Hangar

In Busan, South Korean, the Tech Center’s environmentally-friendly paint hangar has repainted hundreds of aircraft for Korea Air and other airlines since it was established in 1998.

During the visit, a Korean Air 777-200 was well into its 9-day repainting process. On the to-do list:  repainting four Qantas A380s between May 2019 and November 2020.

Tech Center

This Korean Air 747 cargo plane was parked inside a 2-bay maintenance hangar undergoing an extremely thorough, required, multi-week inspection known as a D-check, during which all parts of the aircraft are evaluated.  According to Korean Air, this type of heavy maintenance is performed on more than 100 aircraft a year.

Inside other buildings at the Tech Center, parts are being manufactured for both Boeing and Airbus (including Sharklets for the Airbus A320).

Elsewhere, hundreds of technicians perform maintenance and repair for aircraft operated by commercial airlines and for Korean and US aircraft, including F-15 and F-16 fighters, CH-53 helicopters and a wide variety of other aircraft we were not permitted to photograph.

Engine Test Cell center in Incheon

Korean Air’s $80 million Engine Test Cell (ETC) opened in 2016, and is a joint project with Pratt Whitney.

The ETC is designed to test the world’s largest jet engines, with a maximum thrust of up to 150,000 pounds.

Currently the largest and most powerful commercial jet engine is on the Boeing 777 and has a thrust of 115,000 pounds, but Korean Air’s ETC is ready for the next generation of supersized engines, which are already in production.

Before this center was created, Korean Air had to send its engines elsewhere to be tested, said Bill Kim, manager of Korean Air’s Engine Test Cell facility. The airline had to pay upwards of $8,000 to transport each engine overseas and then wait up to a month for an engine to get tested and returned.

“Here the turn-around time is far less: just two days,” said Kim, which means far less downtime and less need for Korean Air and other airline customers to purchase as many spare engines, which can cost up to $30 million dollars each.

To see the full story – and all 33 photos – see the original story Behind the scenes at Korean Air’s tech and engine-test facility on USA TODAY’s Today in the Sky.

(All photos by Harriet Baskas).

KLM’s augmented reality bag sizer for carry-on bags

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has added an augmented reality bag sizer tool to its app to help passengers figure out if their carry-on bags comply with the airline’s rules.

The augmented reality bag check tool shows a virtual KLM suitcase that is the size of a carry-on bag that fits the dimensions of the bags KLM allows on board.

When the user points their phone at their own carry-on bag, the augmented reality tool can measure the bag against the sample bag.

Here’s a video that shows how the tool works.

 

While it seems that many passengers ignore most airlines’ rules about the dimensions of carry-on bags allowed,  the augmented reality tool seems like a great way for resposible travelres to comply with the rules.

This also seems like a good way to avoid arguments at the gate when KLM gate staffers are being sticklers about enforcing the rules.

If it works well, this is a tool every airline could add to their app.

Passengers could use it to measure their bag before they leave home. In the boarding area, gate agents who feel a bag is oversized could just aim their version of the app at a bag. If there’s debate, both passenger and gate agent could take a screen shot of the results.

Now there just needs to be a way to weigh bags with an app!

KLM’s app offers some other augmented reality features as well, including a 360-degree display of a Dreamliner aircraft and, in the KLM Houses App, a look at Anthony Fokker’s House 98.