By Chris Smith, Founder and CEO, Area360

Today’s typical airport experience is at the very best, hit or miss. Travelers may be prepared and get to the airport on time, have a great meal while enjoying a book in a hushed terminal, and board a flight with no delays. But that’s a rare day, and the typical airport journey involves at least one complication that throws everything off.

This year, Airlines for America projects that 38 million Americans will take to the skies over the 2015 holiday season, equaling 2.2 million travelers every day between December 18th and January 3rd. That many people flowing through the nation’s airports truly puts their efficiency and customer experience to the test, and showcases their biggest problem spots – curbside congestion, snakingly-long lines to check in and get through security, and many more.

I am a geek and a frequent flier, so as I traverse through herds of people resembling The Walking Dead, I can’t help but get excited about the way passengers will experience and flow through airports in the very near future. Here’s a glimpse.

It’s 5:30 AM in the morning when your alarm sounds. You roll over and in a gurgle manage to muster a somewhat coherent sentence: “Alexa, what are my flight details this morning?”. My Amazon Echo replies, “Your Alaska Airlines flight to LA is currently scheduled to board at 11:25 AM, 15 minutes delayed. Traffic will be moderate to heavy. Would you like me to set you a reminder when it’s time to leave or order you an Uber to get you there 1hr prior to departure?” You respond, “Thanks Alexa, please order me an Uber Lux, I like to roll in style”.

As your Uber drops you at the departure door, your phone lights up with a message: “Welcome to Sea-Tac. I see you have checked in and do not have luggage, would you like to head to security?” (A few airlines already do this.) You select yes and the next screen says, “Currently, the fastest security line is 1500 feet away, would you like directions?”. Why yes, yes you would. As you walk to the security line, your phone is navigating you with turn by turn directions as accurate as Google Maps, and also happens to show you the time delta between where you’re currently waiting, and how long it will take to get to your gate on time.

Approaching the security line, an overhead screen shows your name with a green arrow under it pointing you into the TSA Pre line, as it knows you’re already approved. Upon approaching the agent stand, your boarding pass pops onto your mobile screen without your having to dig for it, and you simply tap your phone on a waist high pedestal and it reads the information. To double check, you’re required to hold your phone up to your face so that a quick facial recognition scan can be beamed via Bluetooth to the pedestal to confirm your identity.

The gate opens and allows you through to a conveyor belt that scans your bag without your having to take a single thing out, and you walk across a scale-like platform that does a quick scan to make sure nothing’s out of the ordinary, and in less than two seconds you’re done.

Next, your phone buzzes and up pops another welcome message: “Congratulations, you are through security. You have 55 minutes before your flight starts boarding – would you like to go to to the coffee shop (2 min walk), get a sandwich (6 min walk), buy something at the newsstand (1 min walk) or go to your gate (10 min walk)?”. Naturally, you select the coffee shop and lo and behold, a free drink is waiting as it’s your 10th time, this month.

After you enjoy your coffee, your phone buzzes and tells you: “Your flight is boarding in 15 minutes and you are currently 10 minutes away from your gate, would you like directions?”. You take your phone up on the offer and get there in exactly 10 minutes – no more, no less.

As you stroll up to the gate, your boarding pass pops up again and as you near the agent, you see that she’s already rolled up your favorite newspaper along with headphones for the trip.

You say “thank you” and you’re on our way.

Chris Smith is the founder and CEO of Area360, a location technology company, building products that enhance the way people engage with physical locations through the use of mobile applications and location-aware technology.

If you have read about new Beacon or iBeacon technology you might have a good idea what this story is all about. Look at it as a physically ‘close’ technology that delivers information to interested passerby’s that have an app installed their portable devices. “The technology,” according to Wikipedia, “enables smartphones, tablets and other devices to perform actions when in close proximity to an iBeacon. iBeacon uses Bluetooth low energy proximity sensing to transmit a universally unique identifier picked up by a compatible app or operating system.  As an aside, we note that according to Google: “The term iBeacon and Beacon are often used interchangeably. iBeacon is the name for Apple’s technology standard, which allows Mobile Apps (running on both iOS and Android devices) to listen for signals from beacons in the physical world and react accordingly.” You can read more about the concept here: iBeacon and Apple – iOS: Understanding iBeacon – Apple Support.

Area360’s Founder and CEO, Chris Smith, and his Marketing guru, Nathan Peterson talked to IFExpress a bit about their efforts in this area. But first, you might want to hear what one tekkie journal wrote about them. Market Wired noted: “While most beacon-related systems have been commercialized with a focus on marketing in the retail industry, Area360 has developed a broadly applicable and elegant solution for any industry. Drawing on the company’s rich history of connecting digital content to physical locations through the STQRY app, Area360’s advanced solutions now enable proximity based content delivery down to one to three meters, providing the tightest correlation of any beacon/location-aware platform on the market. Further, Area360 Location enables Airports and airlines, through an SDK (Software Development Kit) inserted into their mobile app, to utilize a content management dashboard to create experiences based on proximity.”

In our discussions, we touched on some of their existing development projects in airport and with airlines – that got our interest and we submitted a number of questions that they have kindly provided answers for our readers. We note that at the end of our questions, we have included a couple links that might answer a few more questions about the company and the technology. We do note that they told us:

1. Tell us a little bit about the “beacon” technology, specifically, what it is, what frequency band(s) it is in, how it works, and what devices are involved (ground system)?

Apple and Google have promoted the rise in the use of beacon technology through their respective protocols (iBeacon and Eddystone), used by many different beacon hardware manufacturers. Beacons are a major development in the so-called “Internet of Things” – changing the way people interact with their environment, and allowing businesses to create better customer experiences and more efficient operations. By setting up beacons in indoor and outdoor spaces, organizations can provide valuable services like way finding, delivery of contextually relevant content and timely offers, based on a customer’s specific location in relation to their mobile device. Beacons may be positioned anywhere, and communicate with backend systems via the Web, with user’s mobile phones and other smart devices. Also, to clarify, we are not an iBeacon hardware creator. We partner with beacon companies to supply our clients. Area360 Location offers a software development kit and content management dashboard that enables experiences to be created with iBeacon and Eddystone technology.

2. Why is this technology interesting to you and what will it bring to users?

Beacons make it easy for airlines and airports to build, measure and iterate on mobile location based experiences. However, to date, most beacon-related systems have been commercialized with a focus on push advertising in the retail industry. Area360 Location is a ready-built technology platform that will give airlines and airports the ability to leverage beacons and other data sources to enhance the travel experience both in the airport, and eventually on the airplane.

Airports are bustling places, with so much to offer visitors, from art installations to shopping and fine dining. What if passengers could find their way more easily to what they really want? What if they could locate important points of interest along the way such as check in, the fastest security line and their gate or the duty free? In addition, the data the business managers at Airports have access to through a location platform such as Area360, can help to make decisions and optimize customer traffic flow as well as operational processes.

3. Tell us a little bit about Area360… company, history, plans for the future.

We started Area360 to give organizations the ability to enhance their customer experience by providing navigation as well as relevant information and unique opportunities along their path. Using beacon and other location data, our platform enables customers to create a broad portfolio of useful services.

Area360 was formed in 2012 in Wellington, New Zealand and has grown under the leadership of Chris Smith, founder and CEO, enabling the rapid expansion to Seattle, with multiple global offices in the works. The company saw an opportunity to rapidly advance its business by opening a Seattle-based headquarters, while simultaneously growing the Wellington office into a development powerhouse.

Drawing on the company’s rich history of connecting digital content to physical locations through the STQRY app, Area360’s advanced solutions now offer dynamic mobile applications and proximity based content delivery down to one to three meters, providing the tightest correlation of any beacon/location-aware platform on the market. Our products are already in use by more than 400 customers worldwide including Emirates Airlines,  Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Denver International Airport, LAX Ontario Airport and a handful of other major airline and airport customers that are currently in beta (we can’t disclose who yet).

(Editor’s Note: SEA-TAC uses our STQRY App product to showcase the art collection within the airport.)

4. Do you think this “solution” has application and use on an airplane? Why?

There are many location-oriented benefits to be experienced in an airline app, from navigation through the airport to the delivery of content, offers and services, to personalized experiences on an airplane. While airplanes don’t yet have beacons onboard, airline apps can make the onboard travel experience more enjoyable from gate to gate, from concierge services, to mood enhancing content and social tools for passengers. We are confident that beacons will some day be allowed on airplanes, but know there will have to be a lot of testing before it becomes a public facing opportunity. (Editor’s Note: There is no Area360 technology in the air. To our knowledge, there is NO beacon technology currently being used on any commercial flight.)

5. Why would Airlines or Airports be interested?

As frequent travelers ourselves, we understand that the difference in which airlines we pick, where our favorite airports are to fly into and out of, is heavily weighted by the customer experience. The combination of mobile and location technology harnessed through the Area360 platform, enables airports and airlines to create and deliver unique, meaningful and timely content in order to satisfy and retain passengers.

Whether its pilots, flight attendants or passengers, the moment you step out of the gate in an unfamiliar place, you have questions. Where is the nearest bathroom? Where is my connecting gate, or baggage claim if arriving home? Where is the duty free or the closest place to buy a meal? Just as GPS has revolutionized how we find our way outdoors, the time is now for beacon technology to change the way we experience life indoors.

6. With respect to aircraft FAA and potential aviation FCC/airplane communication/connectivity issues, please give us a bit of information about your research there.

To date, we aren’t privy to specific FAA or FCC discussions regarding beacons in airports or airplanes, but as beacons grow in popularity, we expect this to be an increasingly important point of discussion.

7. When do you see a ground product available… and an aviation product?

Our products are already in use on the ground by more than 400 customers worldwide including airlines like Emirates, airports like Denver and Seattle-Tacoma International, and museums like the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. and The Walt Disney Family Museum in SF. We are actively talking to airports and airlines all across the globe. (Editor’s Note: Emirates is a customer and have used Area360 mobile and location technology products  – it is not on an airplane.)

8. Today, there are ways that passengers can receive connectivity in a plane with Wi-Fi, and arguably, Bluetooth reception on a plane with existing equipment like routers or whatever, why would your connectivity system be of value to airlines?

Area360 products significantly enhance mobile connectivity through location-aware delivery of content and other services, both on the ground and in the air. People expect a more personalized experience these days, social and mobile data have increased the context in which people receive messages; adding on location data will only make that content more relevant to the passenger receiving it.

9. What else should we know about Area360?

In addition to designing Area360 to make it easy for organizations to improve an organization’s customer experience and operations, we were very focused on building platform agnostic, cloud based products with API integrations that plug in to existing data ecosystems. One example is our Area360 Location SDK that gives developers the ability to build Area360’s capabilities into any application or service.

10. If our readers are interested in AREA360 or it’s products, who do they contact?

For more Area360 information please contact: Nathan Peterson, VP of Global Marketing, 1 425 765-9829