Expanding AR/VR use in airports – Hypertravel or merely Hype?

Despite a recent spate of high-profile flops and failures, the progression of AR/VR technology is building its range of use cases across multiple sectors. For airports and the wider aviation industry, AR/VR is deepening its presence as an invaluable set of training tools, while also branching out into roles such as wayfinding, shopping and entertainment, as the public get more comfortable with its use.

As the technology continues to evolve, expect to see AR and VR solutions cropping up more regularly, and more widely, in the world’s most advanced airports. With competition to become the most desirable aviation hubs heating up, airports will continue to use these technologies as a point of differentiation on the customer-facing side as well as in the wider operational context.

Use cases gaining traction in world-leading airports

Wayfinding: With the use of AR, passengers can easily navigate their way through an airport by following digital arrows and signs that appear superimposed on their real-world view. This is especially helpful for anyone who is unfamiliar with the airport layout, and for passengers with limited mobility or issues with their eyesight. AR-based wayfinding is an increasingly popular feature for helping passengers find their gates, restrooms and other airport areas without relying on traditional signage.

Exemplar airport: Incheon International Airport – South Korea
Incheon has implemented and continually upgraded an AR wayfinding system called “Find Your Way”, a system that uses AR markers placed throughout the airport to guide passengers to their destinations. As well as wayfinding, the system can superimpose flight information and shopping and dining recommendations on the fly.

Entertainment and passenger experiences: The promise of fully realised virtual reality environments is something that film and video game fans have been waiting a long time to experience. Now, with the advent of next generation VR headsets, that promise is closer than ever to being fulfilled. For aviation passenger with time to kill in the airport, the thought of slipping into another world is an enticing one.

Exemplar airport: Dubai International Airport – UAE
DXB frequently leads the way in providing new passenger experiences, and VR/AR is no exception. Currently, Dubai’s flagship carrier Emirates is trialling its Skylights theatre VR headsets in its business-class lounges. Weighing only 120 grams, these headsets can deliver 3D and 2D content on demand, and even feature 360-degree video documentaries for eager tech fans to explore.

Shopping: Airport shoppers are frequently in a hurry, so AR/VR can be a lifesaver in terms of providing guidance, information and assistance quickly. Shoppers can find what they need before dashing for the gate, and for those with more time on their hands, this technology can elevate the experience dramatically. From virtual product demonstrations to virtual livestreaming, commercial entities in airports are in a prime position to experiment with the format.

Exemplar airport: Schiphol Airport, Netherlands
Schiphol Airport makes extensive use of AR and VR technology in its many shopping outlets. Customers using AR apps can enjoy easy access to added information about products and services, available deals and discounts, and even hidden promos and secret offerings. Gamification is a regular feature too, as shoppers can hunt out hidden AR tokens for real-life in-store discount vouchers.

AR/VR will bring a new level of convenience and contentment to airport customers
The integration of a quickly evolving technology will always come with roadblocks and setbacks. The While the headline failures of major VR ecosystems are newsworthy, they does not undermine the long-term potential of providing engaging AR/VR experiences to the mass market. Airports are ideally suited as testing grounds for such technologies, since they cater to large audiences of global consumers with an incredibly diverse set of expectations and perspectives.

Whether it takes the form of wayfinding, shopping, 360-degree oversight of baggage systems (as provided by Saudi Airport Exhibitor Siemens) or other integral solutions, AR/VR is set to become a staple of customer-facing airport interactions, as well as the back end of operations.