The airline industry has a complicated history with handling COVID-19. Despite taking a huge financial hit from the pandemic, the airline industry hasn’t always followed through on social distancing on flights and enforcing mask wearing. And then sometimes they swing the other way and kick families off planes because a 2-year-old won’t keep her mask on.
Looking to remedy the problem of flying safely in a pandemic, the airline industry is turning to AI technology to help them enforce mask wearing and social distancing, as well as keep travelers informed about the safety behaviors of the people around them.
Airline companies are now working with Motorola and CyberLink to develop and install facial recognition cameras and programs that can detect if a person is wearing a mask, if they’re wearing it correctly, if they’re social distancing, if they have a fever, and the number of people in the building.
Mahesh Saptharishi, CTO of Motorola Solutions, says, “Airlines are having a tough time allowing passengers to feel a level of comfort that it's safe to fly. Airlines — at least the ones we have spoken to — are fully invested in actually enforcing mask wearing in general. So they want to insist that not only passengers who enter the aircraft, but those who are in the waiting area before they board, do wear masks...The key ask has been to provide data on people movement and elements such as wearing face masks.”
Airlines can use the data they collect to encourage compliance in a non-confrontational way. Saptharishi suggests that “one approach would be to simply make the data transparent to the public. For example, a digital bulletin board at an airline’s departure gate might signal that 77% of travelers in the lounge are wearing face masks and that 65% are following social distancing guidelines.”
“In that way, it gives both a social nudge and the data that would help a passenger make informed decisions,” Saptharishi says.
And it’s not just airlines that will be employing this technology. “I can confirm that we've been having discussions with distributors that work with places like airports, hotels, restaurants and retail stores,” says Richard Carriere, senior vice president of global marketing for CyberLink. CyberLink’s facial recognition software is called FaceMe.
While both companies refused to share which airlines are working with them to implement this technology, Saptharishi said he would expect to see “more widespread use, particularly at airports, by the end of the summer.”
Technology in a similar vein is already popping up. According to Forbes, “Last week, Los Angeles International Airport began piloting thermal imaging cameras that can detect fever at the airport’s Tom Bradley International Terminal.”