Delta’s new airport technology displays personalized flight information on a large screen

Delta's new airport technology displays personalized flight information on a large screen
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At Detroit Metropolitan Airport’s terminal, thousands of passengers a week find their way to the gates using technology that looks like something out of a futuristic science fiction movie.

Delta Air Lines recently introduced a “Parallel Reality” system that allows travelers to access personalized flight information on a shared overhead screen based on a scan of their boarding pass or face. The thing is, 100 people can do this at the same time, all using the same digital screen, but only seeing their own personal information.

Unlike a conventional TV or video wall, where each pixel emits the same color of light in every direction, the board sends out different colors of light in different directions.

But what was wrong with the old system? Are people looking at a giant screen with dozens of flight schedules, or are they looking at the small screen of their phone?

Greg Forbes, Delta’s managing director of airport experience, said large overhead screens can be misinterpreted, especially at busy airports with multiple daily flights to the same destination. And phones can pose a security risk.

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“We have a real concern that people are going full speed and looking at their phones rather than being aware of their surroundings,” he said. So the airline wanted personalized messages delivered through an app, but in the form of a large screen.

“That’s where the solution we didn’t think of came from,” Forbes said. Delta employees encountered the technology, developed by a company called Misapplied Sciences, more than three years ago. Then he partnered with the startup and invested in the company.

Parallel Reality is based on display technology that allows multiple people to look at the same board at the same time and see personalized information without the need for equipment such as cameras or headsets.

“You’re just staring at screens with the naked eye,” said Albert Ng, chief executive of Misapplied Sciences.

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A ground-based motion sensor that tracks moving objects in Detroit tracks passengers anonymously after they scan their boarding pass or face to direct them to flight information, Ng said. Travelers must opt-in to Delta’s facial recognition technology to use face scanning.

Delta’s plans for the technology were first announced In January 2020, with plans to launch later that year, but the pandemic delayed the launch until late last month.

While the use of facial recognition technology for billboards is not required, Delta also “digital identity technology,” in partnership with the Transportation Security Administration at multiple airports, including Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles and New York’s LaGuardia. The airline said passengers will eventually be able to use facial recognition at all US hubs.

According to Forbes, reviews of the display screens have been “excellent” so far. On busy days, about 1,500 or 1,600 people interact with the technology. He said he expects more installations in the future so the airline can make a “more robust assessment” of future usage.

“If things continue to be as positive as they have been, I would expect to see more of this at the airport and at more locations within the airport,” he said.

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