By Mark Lenahan Specialist in travel retailing, travel distribution, technology, airlines, and loyalty programs.

The Dublin Airport Hackathon was a weekend hackathon event (for software developers and hardware makers) run by DCU Alpha and Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) from 15th to 17th of April.

The competition produced some very interesting projects and prototypes, in two key areas of DAA’s business: runway maintenance and passenger experience.

First prize, EUR €7000, went to the “Air Ally” team and their idea of replacing the need to download an airport app by providing greater functionality – such as real time flight information, wait times and personalized navigation – on the airport wifi login page.

Second prize, EUR €3000, went to the “Runway Wall-E” team. Their idea was a fleet of small drone vehicles (much like remote control cars) that would traverse the runways carrying various sensors and digital cameras. These would allow image recognition to spot debris and also provide weather, visibility, and lighting level checks. The team actually built a working prototype, one of several teams that implemented hardware at the event.

Event sponsor and airport technology provider, SITA, provided a prize for best use of their developer.AERO APIs to the “Gate Mate” team. They prototyped a pre-bookable device that would give location aware assistance via voice prompts to passengers with special needs, to help ease their journey through the airport.

In total 12 teams presented prototypes and pitches at the end of the event on Sunday, after more than two days of intensive coding and engineering.

The event started on Friday afternoon when we heard brief presentations from the API / technology partners including SITA (aeronautical APIs), Intel Ignition (Hardware), Asavie / Vodafone (IoT), Emutex (divers),RS Radionics (hardware), Pivotal (app foundry), ESRI (GIS) and Firmwave (IoT). In addition to free use of their hardware and software, these technology companies also donated significant time, staying around for the entire event to provide expert advice to the teams.

The next set of presentations were from DAA themselves. These were interesting and educational, providing a deep insight into the operations of Dublin airport both on the passenger side and on the tarmac. Speakers included Brian Drain (GM Operations), Kevin Conheady (Airside Ops), and Ian Devine (Airfield Asset Care).

After that, participants were invited to pitch their idea – each pitch to last no more than 60 seconds. Despite the pressure, 31 people in total went forward to pitch an idea. Although some arrived at the event with an existing concept, many of these ideas were new on the night and all took the DAA presentations just moments before into account. After a period of voting on the ideas, by audience and judges, 12 finalists were selected to proceed into the two days of hackathon.

On Sunday evening final demonstrations and pitches were delivered in front of a panel of industry and technology judges. In addition to Air Ally, Runway Wall-E, and Gate Mate described above, the remaining teams presenting were:

  • Dub-Base – Spoken audio alerts from your mobile to your headphones on where to go and when.
  • CheckApp – NFC based replacement of currently paper based (all manual, unverified) safety checks prior to driving a heavy fleet vehicle (HFV).
  • Social Airport – A social channel / chat room for people boarding the same flight from the same airport.
  • Pingin (@pinginapp) –An app to offer points based micro-incentives for passengers to arrive at the right place at the right time (not too early, not too late). Customers earn points which can be redeemed for F&B or other benefits.
  • Reflect Action – A “smart” mirror for use in public bathrooms, offering a brief Yes/No prompt on quality of bathroom and the ability to aggregate data and notify facility managers.
  • Team LiDAR – Van mounted LIDAR to inspect the runway surface at high speed with millimetre accuracy using lasers.
  • AirPortal – Mobile app with personalized navigation within the airport. They used FLIFO APIs, wait times, and location services (beacons).
  • InstaShop – Mobile app with Facebook login which also scans boarding card, then provides personalized / location aware promotions and retailing offers, as well as ability to book / pay on the phone.
  • Buddy Band – A wearable device to allow parents to track the location of children in airports and other large crowded public spaces using their smart phones. Potentially applicable to other use cases – transfer passengers, un-accompanied minors, etc.

In summary – a lot of these ideas overlap, but not in a bad way, each team took a very unique slant and focussed on real world problems presented by DAA at the start of the event.

There are clearly some possibilities for innovation in the areas of passenger navigation in the airport, and personalisation of the airport experience. These could in turn improve retailing revenue and customer service. On the ground operations side, the automation of currently manual/visual safety inspections has the opportunity to both increase safety and capacity at airports.

DCU Alpha run an ongoing series of hackathons for software developers and hardware makers in their innovation campus in Glasnevin. The next scheduled event is the smart home hackathon in conjunction with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), scheduled for 13th – 15th May, 2016.


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