Gatwick Airport is the second largest (and generally less liked) airport in London behind Heathrow. But it did something that not only sets it apart from its bigger sibling but gives us a glimpse of the future of air travel.

Airports, by their nature, are large, maze-like structures that aren’t always the easiest to get around. And trying to get help from an airport employee isn’t always easy, either. So anything an airport can do to weave through the complexities of several terminals and the 80 “news shops” in 30 ft. of each other would be most useful. Gatwick thought so, too—that’s why it’s installed around 2,000 iBeacons to help passengers more easily navigate through the terminals.

TechCrunch is reporting that London’s Gatwick airport is in the first phase of a multi-year transformation program where they’ve installed 2,000 battery-powered beacons in two of its terminals that’ll help guide you to specific locations on your mobile device using on-screen arrows. And it’s said that the system can support positioning with an accuracy of around 3m/10ft.

Photo credit: TechCrunch

An iBeacon is Apple’s version of low-energy Bluetooth (wireless) tech that provides location-based information to iOS devices, like iPhone and iPad. Think of it like an indoor GPS system (since actual GPS has issues reaching indoor places… especially large ones). And while it does kind of work with Android devices (ish), it doesn’t give users the same capabilities. But Google recognizes this, and at their recent Google I/O announced VPS: an indoor, visual positioning service similar to what iBeacon does.

The report also states that Gatwick plans to integrate this into some of its apps. And they’re working with airlines to have it work with their apps and services. So, for example, your phone could receive a notification warning you if you’re running late. Gatwick is also opening the technology up to retailers and other third-parties within the airport—so they can push marketing messages and offers to shoppers (if you opt-in, of course).

And Gatwick recognizes that security is an issue. So they’ve stated that they wouldn’t be collecting personal data using the beacons. Instead, they’ll gather “generic information on ‘people densities’ in different beacon zones” to help improve operations such as lines, congestion, and more. In theory, this is a logical solution to the problem of navigating large structures. And they’re by no means the first to implement this kind of technology.  But how it actually works… well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. So if you’re a frequent traveller through Gatwick, and you get to try this, let us know how you liked it!


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