Move over Pikachu, Google is ready to Tango with travel

Silicon Valley’s San Jose Airport has taken the notion of navigating the terminal one step further by giving customers an augmented reality (AR) view of their surroundings.

Instead of looking down at the mobile screens in their hands to interpret a 2D map while navigating a 3D space, travelers could use the airport’s Tango AR-enhanced navigation to look ahead and see the world before them, revealing hidden treasures.

Tango is a technology platform developed by Google.

Enhanced flight information, informative gate displays revealing destination information, the location of concessions at the terminal, with details of products on offer; all of it becomes as engaging as finding Pikachu, but far more useful.

Nathan Pettyjohn CEO of Aisle411, which developed the San Jose Airport app, thinks the Tango augmented reality technology could have applications across the travel industry. He said:

“The new Tango technology essentially offers hyper location awareness – the device knows where it is within centimetres of accuracy. That opens up many opportunities. We look at airports but we also look at hotels and resorts and how this can enhance the experience.

“Also if you look at people who travel and go to big monuments or museums this could be applied in a museum setting as well and apply a new layer of context.”

Aisle411’s application focuses on physical space and overlays interesting data and graphics on top of the real world so that digital objects become part of the real world, in their proper context.

Pettyjohn continued:

“A traveller can use this to help navigate the airport but they can also get digital information on flights. We can display dynamic digital billboards that would show accurate information about the destination city overlaid to the view of the gate – if an airport were to create that printed it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars but to create that digitally costs a fraction of that price.

“We take APIs, some data on the incoming and outgoing flights and change that information dynamically.

“For airports, a lot of their revenue is based on concessions sales and the revenue share. You can make it easier to get to those concessions and make travellers confident that they have the time and the ability to get there, then they’ll spend more. The implications are there will be more revenue for the concessions at the airport.”

But as well as providing a service for consumers, Aisle411 thinks Tango can also help on the operational side of the airport business.

“The other way we’re looking at this is helping staff onsite carry out their tasks. There’s a facilities asset tracking element, so with Tango you can create 3D maps by walking around the space, and tag different assets in the environment and mark where those are.”

People are already comfortable using mobile devices to guide them, and this adds a layer of enriched contextual information. Because the type of content which can be superimposed on reality is varied and easily updated, airports, airlines, cruise ships, resorts, hotels, landmarks, could help travellers get around, sharing what the eye might miss and learn more about what they see.

While Tango’s AR was developed for the Google Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, the technology is expected to ultimately become device agnostic.

During the launch of British Airway’s new Dreamliner route to San Jose International Airport this summer, the airline and the airport collaborated to give passengers a peek at the new Tango AR experience.

With Tango-enabled devices, passengers saw virtual 3D graphics and signage, with facts about the destination of the next departing flight at each gate. They also saw graphical pop-ups about nearby restaurants.

The potential use cases for this technology make Pettyjohn confident that AR isn’t just the next passing fancy, but  the beginning of a new way in which we will interact with our physical space going forward.

Aisle411 has already put the technology to work in retail, helping shoppers find items on store shelves in augmented reality. They believe transferring that same experience to a travel context opens up many possibilities, but they’re also looking at industrial uses—like helping people pick products in warehouses more efficiently.

“I feel that it’s the beginning of a long life cycle – it’s a better version of what you’re already doing on your mobile. Aisle411 believes this technology will ultimately move to augmented reality glasses for people to wear, and that may take more years but the mobile phone factor is an easier way to get people familiar with the technology.”

Of course, that brings us back to—ahem—Google Glass. Pettyjohn explains why this is different and suggests that there could one day be a legitimate revival of the lens-based technology, which was simply ahead of its time.

“Google Glass…had a lot of promise about where it wanted to be, but the technology didn’t live up to that. Tango has the capability of delivering that. It’s a matter of picking the processors sizes and batteries into a small enough form factor which can enable what they wanted for Google Glass.”

Until the next Glass is ready, though, we can now do a lot more than search for Pokémon when we travel.

Related reading from Tnooz:
What does Pokemon Go mean for the travel industry?(July 2016)
Not augmented, not virtual – it’s mixed reality that changes the game (June 2016)

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Marisa Garcia

About the Writer :: Marisa Garcia

Marisa Garcia is the tnooz aviation analyst. She has covered travel technology, design, branding, and strategy for leading publications, including Aircraft Interiors International Magazine, APEX Magazine, AirlineTrends, and Travel+Leisure. She also shares industry insights on her site Flight Chic. Fly with her on Twitter.



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