It's 10PM, Do you know where your bags are?

David Bartlett, CTO, GE Aviation
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David Bartlett, CTO, GE Aviation

I have been a top tier flyer for many more years than I care to remember on numerous airlines starting all the way back to TWA. The food in the TWA first class lounge at JFK could truly make your eyes pop! This of course is not the case today. TWA, which was once owned by Howard Hughes, filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and was acquired by American Airlines. A lot has changed in the industry. Today we pay to belong to Airport clubs simply for peace and quiet and free pretzels and coffee. What has always been a problem, however, then and now, are checked bags and lost luggage!

According to J.D. Powers, that conducted a passenger satisfaction study in 2014 for North America’s flying business and leisure travelers, 65 percent of passengers check their luggage. More than 50 percent of those that check luggage wait for 15 minutes or longer for their bags at the carousel. Overall satisfaction for those that have to wait is on average 41 points lower than those who do not have to wait. And there are still a shocking two percent of passengers that do not receive their bags at all on arrival. In order to determine how many people are affected by lost bags we will have to do some math. If you take two percent of the 65 percent that check luggage and apply that number against the 3.3B people that flew in 2014 that would indicate almost 43 million people were affected with lost baggage in 2014 annually globally. That number could be a bit less if you assume the airlines outside of the North America handle their customer’s baggage in a better manner. That could be the case. According to the 2015 World Airlines Awards, there was not a single North America based carrier that made it in the top 25 ranked world’s top 100 airlines.

“Collecting and tracking can be made even easier with a new generation of stick-on and disposable sensors that do not even have to retrieved when their job is done.”

So there are at least two IOT opportunities here if not many more. It is clear that there is an opportunity to improve customer satisfaction around checked baggage and lost baggage. There is also an opportunity to help North American airlines improve their satisfaction rankings overall. As IoT technology becomes more pervasive, it can play a key role. Big data platforms are now being built for the industry around IOT to bring new value to the wealth of data coming from industrial assets, their processes, and the enterprises in which they exist. One example is GE’s Predixtm platform for the Industrial Internet. IOT is setting the stage for a new wave of productivity gains and information-based services. IOT platforms along with the ubiquity, of new and cheaper forms of sensor technologies can provide just the breakthrough needed. These technologies will bring together device connectivity, data integration and management, data analytics, cloud, and mobility for all form factors all in a way that works seamlessly together and intuitively to solve challenges such as late of lost luggage in the airline industry.

There are a wide variety of sensors that can be used to track items such as luggage to their owners from RFID (Radio- Frequency ID) to the more location precise UID (Ultrasonic ID). The good news is these technologies continue to come down in price. Collecting and tracking can be made even easier with a new generation of stick-on and disposable sensors that do not even have to retrieve when their job is done. Interesting breakthroughs in healthcare include a disposable sensor in pill form. A patient swallows the pill, which is capable of emitting a signal to determine how far it is from the colon wall. The signal is emitted in all directions, which can then be used to map the colon’s inside surface. The pill sends the data to a wireless patch that the patient can stick on their body and then track the pill as it moves inside. My point with this example is if we can track and map the murky dark colon, we can track each bag inside the labyrinth of an airport.

It is not hard to imagine being able to track all of your bags from a smart phone app or even the bags being able to begin tracking your location. Top tier customers could be issued special luggage tags with embedded sensors and each airline could also provide an app to track those sensors. Value could begin with a simple improved transparency as to your bags location. A big source of angst is just wondering if your bag has actually made it to your destination, especially as you watch other luggage appear from the same flight but not yet yours. When will it drop onto the conveyor? Do I have time to go to the restroom? When should I start filling out a lost luggage form? I, for one, would appreciate a simple confirmation that my bag has arrived and is in process of making its way to carousel ‘X.’ Alternatively, The baggage handling system could sense when you enter the baggage area based on your GPS position or RFID tag that could be attached, for example, to your carry-on bags. Readers at each carousel can transmit to the bag the carousel number you are standing closest to and route that bag to the one you are closest to and even deliver an ETA.

I could also envision platinum or diamond member’s bag being personally delivered as you enter the luggage area. IOT could enable this. The technology is here. When that day arrives, the priority tags on bags will finally have real meaning. Perhaps people will say, ‘It’s 10PM, Do your bags know where you are?’

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