From July 11-13, the Airport Innovation Accelerator, AAAE and the Port of Seattle hosted the 3rd Annual Airport Innovation Forum for a crowd of 189 airport industry leaders including the heads of innovation for airports large and small, government partners including DHS and FAA, airline innovation leads from JetBlue, United, and Alaska, and a range of inspiring innovators. For those that missed it, this article summarizes the key points from the Forum and includes a quick link to all the presentations.
This year’s Forum began with an in-depth look at the potential for biometrics to impact the air passenger. The half day session included special updates from DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on their Biometric Exit program and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on pilots of biometric technologies for biometric passenger processing. The group of 55 leaders engaged in an interactive discussion on the challenges facing biometric adoption, near-term opportunities to test and deploy biometrics in airports, and the vision for a seamless passenger experience.
The Forum officially started on July 12th with an opening statement by Lance Lyttle, Managing Director of Aviation at at the Port of Seattle. Lance highlighted the importance of innovation in aviation and mentioned a few of his airports recent innovation projects including the security line robots that were just launched the previous day.
Andrew Tarver, founder of Jigsaw and lead for IBM’s innovation lab, provided an opening keynote that stuck with the audience throughout the Forum. Customer data is now the gold standard, with Google, Apple, FaceBook and 2 others betting the bank on the payoff. For airports and airlines, this means that knowing your passenger is paramount and a huge opportunity slipping through the industry’s fingers. Tarver cited FaceBook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift as a perfect example of the value of knowing customer. While many thought Zuckerberg is just a techie that enjoys Virtual Reality, the real play is to follow user eye movement to track and PREDICT user wants and needs.
Following the opening keynote, attendees heard about the future of airport planning and incident management using mixed reality that merges the real and digital world. Kelly Malone, VP of Product Management at Taqtile, a Microsoft Hololens development company, explained that advancements in technology allow for visualization and virtual collaboration that has never been seen before. Malone noted planning and situational awareness as key uses for mixed reality and also hinted at the impacts of artificial intelligence to enhance the experience.
The Forum aims to equip industry leaders with innovation tools and tips that they can take back to their work. Matt Phillips, founder of Phillips and Company, delivered a keynote highlighting the top 7 rules for innovation from his work across many sectors and clients. Through is interactive and engaging talk he even slipped in a magic trick. While explaining Pepsi’s innovative tests to reinstitute glass bottles, he put the bottle back in a brown bag only to crush it into nothingness with the blink of an eye.
Following the lunch break, Uber’s head of Airport Experience, Russel Dicker, shared the trajectory of ride-sharing and its impact on airports. Over the next few short years, airports are expected to see ridership on Transportation Network Companies (TNC) become the vast majority. As an issue already impacting airports, the shift is set to create even greater impacts if airports don’t adapt. One of the suggestions Dicker offered was a TNC only level, where Ubers and Lyfts conduct seamless drop offs and pick ups to reduce congestion, minimize driver/passenger waiting time, and reduce carbon emissions.
The next session, led by Manik Arora, CEO and founder of Arora Engineers, covered emerging technology trends set to impact airports. CBP innovation lead, Ari Schuler, talked about disruptive solutions like blockchain that allow the government to interact with partners and passengers like never before. Yuval Kossovsky, Apple’s airport lead for Venue Program Partnerships, talked about the Apple Venue Format (AVF) launch this summer to enhance the bluedot capabilities inside airports as well as the new augmented reality development platform recently opened. Kossovsky shared that within a few short weeks from opening the AR platform, Apple is already seeing new ‘AR apps’ including a freaky portal app that allows you to walk between dimensions. Ken Dunlap, former head of IATA security and Managing Partner of Catalyst Go, an autonomous transportation advisory group, shared the impact of driverless cars and short-range air vehicles on airports. Dunlap alluded to the idea that airport parking garages are due for extinction, at least as we know them now. With autonomous cars, Dunlap suggested the cars simply drive home or pick up someone else. For airports, this means the reduction or elimination of one of the biggest sources of revenue for airports. Dunlap also noted that vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles are a technical reality that could bring new life to regional airports.
The capstone of the first day was the presentation of the 2017 Most Innovative Airport Award. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) took home the award with an impressive resume of technology innovations, community engagement, and cultivating a culture of creativity. Mike Youngs, Deputy Chief Information Officer at PHX, accepted the award and shared a presentation highlighting major terminal enhancements and a set of examples where PHX encourages innovation among its team and local community. [picture attached]
On the morning of the second day, airport innovation leaders took the stage. Dawn Gregory, Director of Innovation and Performance at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), moderated a distinguished group of innovation leads from DFW, SFO, SJC, PDX, SEA, and SAN. Based on initial feedback, this was one of the best sessions of the Forum with innovation leaders talking about their priorities, projects, and challenges. Customer experience and revenue generation were common priorities while all airports cited bureaucracy and lengthy procurement as key challenges for innovation in airports. Nonetheless, airports are innovating. SAN recently launched its innovation lab. SEA deployed two innovation this week alone with a security robot and a new employee screening technology.
Airline innovation leaders from JetBlue, United and Alaska Airlines following the airport session with their own insights on innovation. Candice Irvin, Managing Director of Airlines/Aviation at Deloitte, moderated the session covering a range of topics including how airlines invest in startups with insights from Raj Singh, Managing Director of JetBlue Technology Ventures. Ray Fast, Senior Manage of Innovation at United, also described how airlines have effectively piloted new security solutions in collaboration with DHS.
Designing passenger experience was the subject of the keynote delivered on day two. Mark Hadland, CEO of Level 11, an experience design firm behind the Disney Magic band and Carnival Ocean Medallion, talked about the importance of focusing on the customer. Technology plays a key role, however the key to a great experience is knowing the need and building toward that. Forcing a solution on a problem rarely provides the optimal result.
The Digital Airport session, led by Mike Zoia of Ross & Baruzzini, allowed experts from IBM, SEA, and FAA to explain the changing dynamic of data in airports. The proliferation of smart devices and beacons allows airports to be living organisms that give real-time ‘health’ updates and unique opportunities to engage passengers or enhance operational efficiency.
The final session of the conference was the 2nd Annual Airport Shark Tank, where aviation startups compete for a slot in Airport Market Match, a concierge services under the Airport Innovation Accelerator aimed at gaining insights and invaluable pilot opportunities in airports. Alan Boyle of Geekwire moderated this year’s session with a distinguished set of judges including H.B. Siegel (Prime Minister of Ideas, Amazon), Lisa Nelson (Microsoft Ventures), Harriet Baskas (Aviation Journalist (NBCNews, CNBC, USAToday)), and Benjamin B. Richter (Serial entrepreneur and CEO of Bradford Airport Logistics).
Three months before the event, the Airport Innovation Accelerator opened the nomination window for startups interested in one of the 5 available Shark Tank slots. Thirty eight (38) companies from around the globe competed the application online and were included in a online survey sent out to Innovation Insiders, which are airport leaders that volunteer their time and ideas as part of the Accelerator community. When the votes were counted, 5 startups rose to the top:
- Alitheon: a basket of technologies aimed at teaching computers to recognize and perceive the world around them
- Kiana Analytics: a SaaS platform for passenger insights and engagement
- Loud Steps: indoor navigation for the visually impaired
- Sleepbox: Sleep vending machines for public spaces
- Venuetize: mobile-first platform to monetize passenger loyalty
Each startup presented their solution for 5 minutes and answered 5 minutes of questions before the live-polling system allowed the audience to cast their vote for the winner. While the crowd logged their vote, each judge offered their overall assessment. In dramatic fashion, the live-polling system showed erratic results until the very last second, when two winners emerged in an unexpected and unusual tie. Alitheon and Sleepbox gathered over 60% of the votes between them and were presented the Shark Tank Winner certificate and participation in the Airport Market Match program.
For those wondering, last year’s Shark Tank also resulted in a tie with Canard Drones and CrowdVision winning. A summary of last year’s Shark Tank is posted here. We also collected a ‘one year later’ update from each participating company that can be found here.