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BW Businessworld

How Wearable Technology Can Enhance Flying

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Technology has dramatically altered almost every aspect of our lives for the better. It has improved work, play and transportation, specifically air travel, where the industry continues to improve and evolve with the proliferation of new technology. When you fly today, you're able to track the aircraft's progress along its flight path and order drinks from a touchscreen in the seat in front of you. Your pilot is able to see approaching weather long before it hits, land in the lowest visibility conditions and monitor all of the aircraft's diagnostics from the cockpit. But where else can technology improve flying? 
 
More wearable devices are coming out each year, with around 90 million expected to ship in 2014. By 2020, the wearables market is expected to grow to $5 billion to $10 billion. Although adoption is mostly limited to wearable fitness and health trackers at present, the market is poised to grow dramatically - and the time is right to look at new industries for wearables. 
 
One area that is ripe for research and development is using wearable technology, such as glasses, watches and more, to help passengers, flight attendants, maintenance personnel and others have a better experience aboard a plane. 
 
According to SITA's Air Transport World Passenger Survey, the majority of passengers (77 per cent) are comfortable with the use of wearable technology to help them on their trips. This comes as no surprise, because many travelers considered wearables to be just another personal electronic device. But even if wearables are used in a way that's not intrusive to a plane's operation or to other passengers, they must serve a purpose, not just exist for technology's sake.
 
With this in mind, Honeywell set out to find an opportunity for wearable technology to assist our corporate flight attendant. During a work day, we followed how the flight attendant completed tasks, from pre-flight checks to landing and while in the air. We noticed how often the flight attendant's hands are full due to multitasking to get everything done on time. This is especially noticeable before takeoff while readying the plane for passengers. 
 
We saw Google Glass as a great wearable solution because it presents the information flight attendants need in a way that allows them to complete other tasks simultaneously while helping ease their workload. It would keep the attendant's hands free and not require a tablet or a phone to do the work needed to prepare the plane for flight. 
 
By focusing on the customer experience and rooting design and development in a customer's needs, wants, what we call the Honeywell User Experience, we created a Google Glass app that integrates with Honeywell's cabin management system. Together, they present key information within the flight attendant's field of vision: flight data, passenger status and weather updates, plus the ability to control everything from the window shades to the cabin temperature. 
 
The Google Glass app solves one specific problem for our flight attendant, but we're just beginning our work in wearables. We see other instances where hands-free operations could be useful, such as operating the cabin during turbulence while serving coffee, or when a maintenance professional is fixing an issue and needs to review instructions while holding tools. Wearable technology gives developers another tool to optimize the user experience. This goes hand in hand with the growing adoption of commercial electronics across the aviation industry.
 
There's still much to discover and research. With the introduction of monocular, immersive, wrist-worn and fabric technology, users have new tools to optimize their day, and developers have new tools for designing a great cabin experience. This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we'll be doing to improve and modernize the flight experience through wearable technology.