Governments the world over are grappling with the task of deciding where it’s safe for its citizens to travel to, whether to impose isolation sanctions on overseas visitors and people returning home, or just implement an outright ban on travel to and from certain countries. Airport security checks tightened after 9/11, but those changes will pale in comparison to the changes that will see a significant increase in airport biosecurity measures.
Biosecurity is a set of preventive measures designed to reduce the risk of transmission of infectious diseases in humans, animals and crops. While measures to enforce prevention and control of animal and crop diseases have been implemented widely, measures for humans have received little attention – until now. Perhaps a touch more of human bio-screening would have mitigated the more than 61% y-o-y global decline in flights in April 2020. After new measures are undoubtedly applied, many points along a passenger’s aviation journey, from departure check-in to arrivals’ baggage claim, are destined to change.
Enter the Startup Nation
While various analysts suggest that it could take up to five years for passenger numbers to reach 2019 levels, airports are already diligently working and collaborating with tech companies to ramp up biosecurity protocols in order to enable the safe return of passengers to the skies.
Numerous startups in the Israeli tech ecosystem adapted their core technologies to transform the future of air travel. Many are working with OurCrowd, the largest securities crowdfunding platform in the world, which announced plans to raise a $100 million Pandemic Innovation Fund that will invest in technologies to tackle medical, business, educational and social needs triggered by global pandemics and other health emergencies.
Getting to the airport
Future air passengers driving to an airport could encounter a new layer of screening — bio-screening — before they even leave their vehicle. UVeye, a company which regularly focuses on inspecting vehicles for damage and concealed explosives, has modified its solution to help detect whether drivers and travelers in a vehicle have a fever, which is a symptom of Covid-19. Last year they raised $31 million from backers including Toyota and Volvo.
In the airport
Entering the airport, passengers will go through additional measures such as disinfection tunnels and multi-sensory screening. Juganu, which announced in July 2019 it had raised $23 million to develop the JLED smart-city infrastructure, will equip disinfection tunnels with far-UVC light, a wavelength that can kill viruses but cannot penetrate the top layer of human skin. Thus, whatever microbes may be embedded on the passenger’s clothing and luggage are eradicated before entering the airport.
VocalZoom, a developer of hyper-sensitive lidars for contactless predictive maintenance in industrial applications, now offers contactless screening based on a variety of confirmed bio-markers, allowing for screening of a large number of people, even those who are asymptomatic, in public locations. NanoScent, a leader in AI scent recognition, has produced an examination kit that determines the presence of the coronavirus within 30 seconds. Their main backer is the Japanese Sumitomo Chemical Company that invested £934,000 in May 2020.
In the unfortunate case of a passenger failing the above tests and exhibits symptoms, companies like MeMed and Sight Diagnostics will allow for onsite AI saliva and blood tests, respectively, with results within 10-15 minutes, making sure to keep on the ground only those who are actually infected.
The flight check-in process could require all baggage to be “sanitagged,” as suggested by a recent report by aviation marketing consultancy SimpliFlying. Sonovia, developers of anti-pathogen fabric coatings, have technology to infuse baggage with their coating as part of this sanitagging process, both for checked bags and carry-ons. In August 2019, Sonnovia received a €2.4 million grant from the from the EU Horizon 2020 program.
With social distancing measures in mind, prevention of queuing is key — especially in security lines. A company like Seetrue, which uses an unsupervised learning approach that operates beyond human sight, already provides automatic threat detection and alarm resolution for X-ray and CT systems. The solution enables travelers to keep all items in their baggage (including laptops) and streamlines manual procedures while maximizing safety to provide a seamless passenger experience. Seetrue raised $3.8 million through OurCrowd in March 2020.
Finally, once the passenger makes it to the departure lounge, Vayyar, which developed a 4D radar for a variety of applications, will ensure adherence to social distancing rules with HD people-tracking and counting capabilities that can be used even in restrooms without breaching any privacy issues. Vayyar’s Series D funding raised $109 million in 2019.
In the restrooms and across the lounge, Soap will provide AI-enhanced hand-washing micro-stations for adequate sanitation.
Passengers won’t need to worry about missing their boarding calls as Neura will send a push notification to their smartphones, just at the right time according to seat class, preventing any queuing at the gate in the process. According to SimpliFlying, in some cases, passengers might go through another disinfection tunnel on the jet bridge itself.
Though it might take a while before inflight-service robots welcome passengers onto the plane, Temi is already offering personable robots capable of engaging with humans and receiving requests. The post-pandemic economy cabin will feature plastic curtains between seats and might require travelers to BYOD (bring your own device) for inflight entertainment.
Temi announced in February 2020 it had raised $15 million in a Series B funding round led by Chinese venture capital giant Joy Capital along with former Alibaba CTO John Wu.
Upon landing, passengers will disembark and the plane will have to be thoroughly sterilized after every flight — adding precious minutes to the overall time on the flight line. Intellact provides airlines with a turnaround management solution that allows airlines, airports, and ground handling teams to address turnaround service bottlenecks and minimize delays.
Travelers entering their destination airport will again be greeted by disinfection tunnels and multi-sensory screeners. Passengers with virus symptoms that materialized during the flight or somehow slipped through the cracks of pre-flight bio-marker testing will be identified at this stage and able to locate local healthcare services through AirDoctor (which raised $3.1 million seed funding in 2019) or utilize TytoCare’s telehealth platform for on-demand and remote medical examinations. TytoCare raised a further $50 million this year.
Border control will be further automated and enhanced with AI facial recognition from companies like Corsight, which in April 2020 announced it had raised £5 million. Finally, infection-free travelers will exit the airport, and go through it all again to make their return flight, or an onward one to a new destination.
As parts of the world are embarking towards the new normal, others are still fighting to control the outbreak. Easing border shutdowns and effectively opening back the skies will only be possible when full containment of the coronavirus has been achieved. While the pre-Covid era carefree attitude of air passengers is unlikely to bounce back anytime soon, the road towards implementing effective biosecurity measures is only being paved now. In two to five years, the aviation industry is expected to return to volumes seen in 2019 — and with much greater resilience.
Just be sure to arrive at the airport at least 4-5 hours before your flight!