Airport Partners with Tech Firm to Develop ‘Internet of Things’ Lab

Now that Pittsburgh knows what its new terminal will look like, the next question is, “How will it work?”

At least part of the answer will spring from a new partnership between the Allegheny County Airport Authority and French tech company Actility, which is focused on developing the “Internet of Things” Lab, or IoT.

IoT refers to machine-to-machine communications networks that allow devices ranging from vehicles to entire HVAC systems that aren’t traditionally considered “smart” to share data and adjust their operations – and the operations of the parts of the facility that they control – based on information generated by built-in sensors and electronics.

“IoT allows anything to be connected,” said Katherine Karolick, ACAA’s senior vice president of information techhnology. “The value for passengers is that the airport will be able to respond to what’s happening in the terminal.”

Renderings courtesy of Gensler + HDR in association with luis vidal + architects.

Many consumers are already familiar with IoT applications in their own homes, from Ring doorbells to Nest thermostats to Fitbit wristbands.

One place they might see the impact of IoT in the airport could be at eateries, Karolick said. If lines get excessively long in one area, sensors might detect a rise in temperature there and automatically increase air conditioning in order to compensate. The network could also alert airport staff, who might want to quickly establish a pop-up concession to address the high demand.

“One of the key reasons we’re doing this is to make (visitors’) experience better,” Karolick said. “The more we know about what’s going on in the airport, the better prepared we can be.”

She stressed that while the IoT will track the movement of passengers and visitors in the airport, it will not be collecting personal data on anyone.

And it’s not just about selling hamburgers or increasing spending at shops. The IoT will have a direct effect on everything from clean bathrooms to airport security.

“By better understanding how the airport operates, we’re able to be more efficient on maintenance and cleaning,” Karolick said.

Under the agreement, the ACAA and Actility will establish a lab at the airport and begin testing IoT network approaches. Actility established similar labs in Paris and Beijing last year, but this is the company’s first announced partnership with a U.S. airport.

As designs for Pittsburgh’s new terminal grow more detailed, they will include plans to incorporate IoT technology as part of construction. During the process, more partners will join what Karolick refers to as “the ecosystem” that will eventually make the IoT fully functional.

By 2023, when the new $1.1 billion landside terminal opens, the goal is to deploy state-of-the-art systems that will be a large part of making Pittsburgh International Airport the “smartest” airport in the world, said CEO Christina Cassotis.

“Building an ecosystem of technology leaders and advanced thinking partners will enable us to learn and adapt to be the leading airport in meeting passenger and airline needs while continuing to increase efficiencies,” she said.

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