Building a Smart Future 5G Technology in Action at Taoyuan Airport
Nov 11, 2019

In 2020, Taiwan will officially begin to provide 5G services. In anticipation of this momentous event, and in step with industry-leading smart airports from around the world, Taoyuan Airport has initiated numerous projects in recent years to make the dream of digitization a reality. The Forum was a wonderful chance to publish the results and help the outside world gain greater insight into Taoyuan Airport’s digital transformation. CommonWealth Magazine had a chance to sit down for an exclusive interview with CEO Lin Hsiang-sheng after the conference and delve deeper into how Taoyuan Airport is responding to the challenge of building a smart airport.

Lin gets straight to the point. Since Terminal Three is still under construction, “It is all the more pressing that Terminals One and Two become smart terminals so we can effectively handle the ever-growing traffic and reduce the amount of time passengers spend waiting in line.” Lin says in order to transform into a smart airport, Taoyuan Airport needs to progressively achieve the reality of “digitization”. This means the distribution of smart sensors and the integration of old and new information systems. People and cargoes inside and outside the airport will become trackable and analyzable pieces of data. “Flights, passengers, and luggage—these are the three major points of data Taoyuan Airport is working to digitize so we can achieve the goal of building a smart airport.”

Flights, Passengers, Luggage—Three Major Points of Digitization

Regarding flights, Taoyuan Airport will have completed the “smart monitoring of flights” (航機空側的監控智慧化) by the end of this year. Lin explains that older systems only provided simple updates on the situation in real time. The new monitoring system will digitize everything from take-off to landing, from taxiing on the tarmac to all the other movements after landing. “Even directions from air traffic controllers and instructors from the Airside Management Department are points of data that need to be digitized.” Once all the information has been digitized and the infrastructure for 5G has been completed, this will set the stage for further developing the Human-Machine Collaboration model of operation in the future.

There’s also the issue of luggage. “I would not say automated sorting qualifies as being smart or advanced, it’s already standard-issue. But Taoyuan Airport has added new technology on top of this system,” says Lin. The airport has borrowed a page from certain airports in the European Union and outfitted workers in the luggage control center with augmented reality (AR) glasses. They can monitor the speed and status of the automated sorting process in real time without having to be physically in the noisy luggage sorting area. This not only increases their efficiency, but also completely records anything the human eye may have missed and turns it into digitized data.

As for passengers, Taoyuan Airport has commissioned the National Taiwan University Center of Innovation and Synergy for Intelligent Home and Living Technology (智活中心) to execute an experimental program for the past two years. At the end of this year, Taoyuan Airport will launch an app with five innovative service functions to aid passengers. It is hoped that in the future, the service will extend to people seeing off or picking up passengers at the airport as well, and everyone can make full use of the many thoughtful services and facilities provided by Taoyuan Airport.

“People just setting foot in the airport will be greeted with an introduction to all the services available to them. If they express interest in a particular service, the app will guide them to the location where the service is available. Upon arriving at the location, the app will further help the user understand what’s special about the facility or store they are visiting. In the future, a membership system will be introduced to connect passengers with recommended stores based on the user’s preference.” Lin says besides servicing passengers, the app can also help the airport manage passenger traffic. By diverting passengers to more suitable locations, all the space in the airport will be better utilized and crowds can be reduced.

These progressively digitized methods of management and service can be described as the result of the airport getting “smarter” in preparation for the era of 5G. But there’s a more accurate description: all this effort is to transform the airport from a bustling hub of hurrying passengers to a commercial precinct where shoppers will be glad to tarry.

“Once the 5G environment and the Internet of Things are completely in place, in the future we hope to stimulate the airport economy.” Lin points out that Taiwan has shown great interest in ecommerce and online shopping. On an average day, around 130 thousand people pass through Taoyuan Airport. Without question, it is full of potential for shopping in traditional brick-and-mortar stores. In the upcoming digital environment with all the information technology fully in place, there is a very good chance a comprehensive channel of “bricks-and-clicks” can be developed—a shopping mall that combines online with offline, virtual reality with actual reality. It will be an all-encompassing commercial ecosystem.

5G and IoT Transform Taoyuan Airport into Comprehensive Channel of Bricks and Clicks

Lin brings up three exemplary business models that are under negotiations or part of a larger research and development project. All three examples are full of potential.

The first is new retail business generated by O2O (Online to Offline, specifically how online marketing and sales can lead to offline operations and sales.) “Passengers have lots of financial needs in an airport, such as exchanging currency, purchasing insurance, and other mundane everyday transactions. Isn’t it possible that financial companies can offer special deals to passengers through some sort of loyalty program?” Lin remarks reservedly that Taoyuan Airport is currently is talking with a certain prestigious Taiwanese financial company about working together. “Hopefully, this kind of cooperation will help airports and financial companies create a new source of revenue.”

The second innovative project concerns robots. A robot that collects trays is already on duty in the Hsin Tung Yang food court in Terminal One. At the Forum, another robotic assistant was unveiled—a tea-serving robot that will be available for the first time in duty-free shops toward the end of October. Not only can this robot serve tea and wait on customers; it also offers information services. “We are in talks with Chunghwa Post (中華郵政) about importing their financial information robot.” Lin says robots can serve a wealth of diverse functions. Labor-intensive work and customer service are just the beginning: there’s also room for exploration in the financial sector. “Online banks don’t need to hire tellers, but robots may serve as bank tellers in airports.”

Besides making passengers’ lives easier, robots can also manage airport security much more effectively. Lin says “security robots” are also part of Taoyuan Airport’s 5G blueprint. Preliminary plans envision robots equipped with 4K cameras and transmitting high quality images at great speeds thanks to 5G. Any suspicious persons, items, or occurrences anywhere on airport premises, such as equipment abnormalities or human sabotage, will be recorded and reported back to the control center in real time. “This may be a faster and safer way to patrol the airport.”

The third example concerns self-driving cars, which are the talk of the town in recent years. Lin reveals that Taoyuan Airport is exploring a two-phase collaboration project with a research team to test out self-driving cars.

The first phase of the project is to test out “self-driving shuttles” in Taoyuan Airport’s largest parking lot “P4” before June 2020. Lin says the so-called “smart parking” of the past meant passengers returning from abroad could type their plate number into a mobile device and the app would show where their car was parked. Humans still had to drag their own bags to their cars. But with a “self-driving shuttle”, “it will be like calling Uber in the parking lot.” After entering your plate number, the shuttle will pick you up and drive you and your bags to your car. “Beijing Daxing International Airport has a logistics robot towing your car to your location. We will see which way is more convenient.” The second phase of the project is to run “monitored sandbox plans” in the semi-public areas between Terminals One and Two after July 2020. Late in the night when there’s less traffic, self-driving cars will be deployed to ferry around passengers and airport staff.

Lin says all the business models being researched and negotiated by Taoyuan Airport can be encompassed under the vision of “investing more airport resources into commercial services”. “In the past, the airport sank a lot of resources into security and traffic management, which decreased our chances of investing in commercial services. In the future, after our smart transformation, we will change the ratio of resources invested.” He uses Singapore’s Changi Airport as an example. Changi uses various biometric technologies to greatly reduce the time and hassle of going through passport control, so passengers would have more time to enjoy the airport’s facilities and shopping. Even people who don’t have a plane to catch might visit the airport just for fun. “This vision matches Taoyuan Airport’s mission statement. By increasing the ratio of commercial services we provide, we hope to lead the way in turning the airport into an aerotropolis.”

Lin admits that compared with some world-class airports, Taoyuan Airport is indeed slower to begin the process of becoming a smart airport. Terminals One and Two are currently in the process of integrating old and new systems and applying digitization to a myriad of existing management and service functions. The experience will serve as a valuable lesson for planning the hardware and software components of the upcoming Terminal Three’s information infrastructure. “While I cannot say we are ahead of the curve, we are going full steam ahead to realize our vision!” Lin says resolutely.

Translated by Jack C.
Edited by Sharon Tseng
Content sponsored by Taoyuan Airport