ost people won't believe something will happen to them... until it happens! The chances of a commercial flight emergency are about 1 in 1,200,000, so the odds are very low that it will happen to you. However, amid a worldwide situation, where various governments of countries are frantically scrambling to find a solution and establishing statutes, the impact of such regulations on air travel is the clearest of them all. Air travel is the easiest way for viruses such as COVID-19 to spread, hence as an effort to control this pandemic, governments around the world have added rigorous restrictions pertaining to air travel. This article will get into detail about the various uses of AI in airports and how its usage must be increased. To illustrate this situation, I'm going to take the example of the ongoing epidemic that has taken the world by storm: COVID-19.
Role of AI in Air Travel
Air travel is widely considered as the most luxurious and comfortable mode of transportation. However, due to the prevailing conditions, air travel has changed drastically. AI is a powerful weapon in every aspect, hence it is essential that we effectively utilize it to help make air travel convenient once again. I recommend that we use AI in 3 different stages:
There are 2 types of luggage that passengers carry with them, check-in and hand luggage. The first step in the boarding process is to check-in the luggage that you prefer not to carry around i.e., those that are bulky or heavy. A large number of people touch the check-in luggage, from the flight crew (attendants) to the reaching hands at the baggage claim. Limiting the number of people that come in contact with the check-in luggage will go a long way in controlling a virus. Every airport has kiosks so that people can check-in digitally. However, I believe that the usage of kiosks must be diversified. Before proceeding to the physical check-in or digital check-in (kiosks), people must record their vitals (temperature, blood pressure, symptoms, etc.) once they enter the airport. Integrating that information with the travel records of all the passengers will help us discern those at a higher risk. Colour coding passengers from no risk(green) to high risk(red) can support this. Those who have been detected ‘at higher risk’ will be escorted to the medical facilities present at the airports. This kills 2 birds with one stone as it not only helps prevent the spread of the virus to the fellow passengers on the flight and reduces the inconvenience for the rest of the passengers.
After checking-in their luggage, passengers must go through customs/security. To control and prevent the spread of COVID-19, a lot of new measures have been established by authorities, such as the thermal screenings. However, this process is very time-consuming, so instead of having separate thermal scanners, we could integrate them with the security cameras. This provides a live feed of passengers as well as the 'at risk' index in the preceding paragraph, thus allowing passengers at higher risk (red), medium risk (yellow) and no/little risk (green) to go through security check through different lanes. The aforementioned system equipped with facial recognition increases efficiency, efficacy all the while making it more convenient for passengers!
An extra layer of efficiency could be added by providing passengers with special ID devices, through embedded chips in boarding passes, to immediately identify someone with higher than average temperature. However, to make this system as efficient as possible, it is necessary to associate both the unique ID assigned to each passenger to the Aadhar number linked with the passenger’s name and boarding pass. This supports the existing system and helps us track those who are infected as well as at high risk.
The last and final stage is, by far, the most important. I propose that for every flight, one member of the flight crew acts as a cabin baggage assistant. The dimensions and weight of the hand luggage of each passenger must be measured, thus by AI, the most convenient accommodation within the overhead cabin is attained (think: a large-scale and three-dimensional TETRIS game of arranging the bags by the AI). So, instead of each passenger keeping their luggage in the overhead cabin, one member of the flight crew will keep the luggage according to the output structure proffered by the AI. Each passenger can comfortably retrieve their hand luggage because their unique identification number corresponds with the ID of their luggage. This same system continues until the baggage claim, where things start to get a little different. According to the 'at risk' system, passengers will claim their baggage 1 group (high, medium, low risk) at a time. The baggage of each passenger would come out at a time, so there is no need for a big cluster of people rummaging for their baggage. This system thus reduces the likelihood of the spread (fewer interactions, less movement, more space) of a virus while making it more convenient
AI in Airports: Prevailing Practices
In the previous paragraphs, I mentioned how AI could be used to help make air travel a safe option during this pandemic; and now, we're going to look at how AI is already used in airports. Air travel, either for business or personal reasons, has become a regular part of billions of people’s lives around the world. With this, there is an increase in the hassle and stress that travelers are forced to go through at certain times. From the mad dash for parking at the airport to the long security lines at customs, it seems that being uncomfortable has become the new norm. Despite nearly 3 trillion dollars expected to be spent for airport construction and expansion projects over the next 10 years, things are going to get worse before getting better, as the number of flights and passengers outnumber the airports’ capacity. More than 2.7 million passengers fly every day and airports are tasked with the challenge of providing a comfortable experience for travelers.
Note the use of the word “challenge” in the previous paragraph- this means that airports are desperate to try and make flying a more pleasurable experience! Hence, more and more airports are relying on AI to provide a pleasant journey to passengers. For many people, the security screening- and now even thermal screening- can be very stressful but airports can provide travelers with real-time wait estimates at places like Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints to give passengers an idea of how much time they can expect to wait in the security queue. Passengers can access security wait times on airport websites before they leave home, hence allowing them to manage their time and diffuse the inevitable "Will I miss my flight?" worries. With machine learning, data can be analyzed faster than before and can identify threats without taking off your hand luggage! The CEO of Evolv Technology stated, "AI provides us with unlimited opportunities". The next implementation of AI I'm going to talk about is biometric scanning.
Earlier this year, tech specialist SITA reported that around 77% of international airports are planning major programs related to biometric ID management. At the moment, the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (Atlanta, Georgia)is opening its first biometric terminal. Willing participants can use the facial recognition scanners at self-service kiosks. Fingerprinting, retinal scanners, and facial recognition systems are rapidly becoming the new norm.
Implementing AI in Airports - Repercussions
When it comes to implementing AI in airports, the question remains whether it is worth investing in. The TSA has recently been scrutinized for previously failed investments in AI projects. A 2018 Politico article revealed that the organization has spent $150 million on body scanners and failed to identify any potential security threats during undercover testing. In a case study conducted by John Hopkins University, the rate at which ‘potential’ threats (the meaning of potential is very crucial in this context) are identified at airports that are not assisted by AI is approximately the same as airports that have not integrated AI into their security. The actual rate of suspicious activities that take place in airports is very less, hence many are reluctant to pour so much money into something that has not been proven in airports yet on a large scale. So the problem here is consistency. The more the neural networks and chips are advanced, the smarter and better these machines become. So it’s not if AI can become more consistent it’s a matter of when.
Another issue comes from the privacy advocates, who continue to be troubled by the accuracy of biometrics and the potential misuse of the information. This issue can also be related to the solutions I proposed previously in this article. Facial recognition and vitals aggregation are useful mechanisms, and like any other machine- when used in the right way, they can help immensely but when used in the wrong way, they can yield terrible consequences.
However, unemployment is the most important limitation to AI. Human resources have all always been, and always will be, the most important type of resource. There is an innate sense of morality and 'human sense' that AI can not replace, at least right now. Therefore, there must be a way in which AI and humans can peacefully coexist. There are a variety of challenges faced by AI technology in the airport space, but a dire necessity of the technology has been expressed.
The very concept of flight is being changed at the moment. What used to be a memorable and comfortable experience, is now stressful and traumatizing. Will things go back to the way they were, after this pandemic? Nobody knows! What we do know is that now is the time to implement AI technology in airports. Instead of shutting down the airports, we should properly apply Artificial Intelligence. Spread the word, read similar articles about AI, learn something new about the implementation of AI. With these measures, it is for sure that AI has, and will create a bright future in the world! One thing is certain- for the betterment of the world- humanity needs A.I., not only as a helper but as a decision-maker, and a security guard! The appropriate utilization of AI is vital for the world to progress healthily.