MIT Software Could Help Travelers Assess Risk

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MIT’s Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) model

The human brain is amazing. It can assess situations and come up with solutions in ways that would make a computer jealous. So it should be no surprise that a group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is working on algorithms that emulate our analytical thought processes.

Professor Brian Williams, of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) laboratory, says that the Boeing Company is helping to fund the research, which began as a concept study of Personal Air Vehicles (PAV’s). Think of the ultimate flying car, or taxi, and you get the idea. “There’s lots of enthusiasm for the idea, and we don’t want to need certified pilots. It would be a robotic air taxi, and we’re trying to build a system that we can talk to,” says Williams.

The algorithm and resulting software could have wide application in airline operations, including gate allocations, airport ground movements and flight-path planning.

Getting into your PAV, you would tell it to “take me home, but I want to stop for dinner at a sit-down restaurant, and arrive by 7 p.m.”  Now given the specific constraints of the task, the PAV’s software would evaluate weather, navigation, vehicle system status, the database of available restaurants and all other necessary parameters before proposing a solution. The software might suggest a restaurant, or it might say “there isn’t time for a sit-down restaurant if you want to be home at 7 p.m. I suggest going to a ‘fly-through,’ and here’s two on our route.”

The unique component of this algorithm is that it assesses risk, in the sense that it evaluates the probability of success of a solution that’s based on the applied constraints. Your GPS doesn’t do that. If the user doesn’t like an initial solution, the software evaluates and proposes options until a high probability solution is accepted.

For today’s airline passenger, the software might be used to figure out flight bookings. “A passenger would say ‘I’m taking the hourly shuttle flight, but I hate turbulence. I need to eat. What flight should I book, and what time should I leave the office?’” says Williams.  “The software would work through a whole set of outcomes, to determine the best solution.”

Sound like science-fiction? Perhaps. But Williams’ group has named the algorithm and software “Enterprise.” And each module is named appropriately. “Uhuru handles the dialogue, Sulu flies the PAV, Bones is diagnosis, and Kirk is in charge of overall planning. He’s smarter than the older module, Pike,” chuckles Williams.

Williams, who is also a Professor in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, adds that the algorithm and resulting software could have wide application in airline operations, including gate allocations, airport ground movements, and flight-path planning.

APEX Hollywood Shortlist: American Sniper Makes History (again!) as Birdman Feathers its Nest with Award Season Kudos

Strange Magic, Walt Disney Pictures
Strange Magic, Walt Disney Pictures

Making history yet again, Warner Brothers’ runaway smash American Sniper crossed the $200M mark at the box office over the weekend to become the second highest grossing war film in Hollywood history behind Steven Spielberg’s WWII epic Saving Private Ryan (DreamWorks), which topped out with $216M in 1998. Armed with six Oscar nominations and a rock steady perch at the top of the box office for the second weekend in a row with $64.6M, Sniper should easily surpass Ryan in the next few days to become the top grossing war film of all time.

Steaming up the windows in the second spot at the weekend box office was the Jennifer Lopez erotic thriller The Boy Next Door (Universal) which opened with $14.9M. Despite featuring a stellar cast of voice talents (including Tony winners Alan Cumming, and Kristen Chenoweth) and a story from the mind of George Lucas, the Force was not strong with Disney’s animated fable Strange Magic – opening in seventh place with $5.5M. Johnny Depp’s Mortdecai (Lionsgate) also struggled to finagle his way to the top of the office, opening in ninth place with a 4.2M haul.

The Boy Next Door
The Boy Next Door, Universal

And in a weekend that saw audiences seeking out smaller, Academy Award-nominated films in droves, Fox Searchlight’s Birdman soared to the top of the Oscar flock by scoring some major award season brass.

After trading trophies with IFC’s Boyhood for most of the season, Birdman jetted past Richard Linklater’s sentimental favorite to take top honors at the Producers Guild of America (PGA) awards on Saturday night and the award for Best Ensemble Cast at Sunday’s Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards. To put these wins in perspective, the winner of the PGA’s top prize have gone on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 18 of the past 25 years. And though the correlation between Best Ensemble Cast wins at the SAG awards and Best Picture winners at the Oscars is a less reliable indicator (winners have matched up only nine times in 19 years), Birdman’s guild victories will definitely improve their odds come Oscar time. And with the Directors and Writers guilds set to weigh in with their winners in the next two weeks, it really is anyone’s game this season.

Unless your name is J.K. Simmons. The Whiplash star has won every major award he’s been nominated for, so, seriously, just hand the dude an Oscar already.

As IFC Technology Advances, Gogo Preps to Set New Records

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Gogo is on track for record installs in 2015, with these planned installs helping the company reach 2,600 equipped aircraft by year end – 25 percent of those installs on international aircraft. Gogo will also upgrade more than a third of its installed ATG systems to NextGen ATG-4 technology, tripling peak speeds to the aircraft and increasing capacity.

“Operationally, what the talented group at Gogo has accomplished and is set to accomplish in 2015 is unprecedented in this industry and continues to amaze me,” said Gogo’s president and CEO, Michael Small. “Between installing new service and upgrading our original ATG service to ATG-4, our installation team expects to touch 1,000 aircraft in various parts of the world in 2015. We are excited about where we are going in terms of bringing new aircraft online and adding significantly more capacity to the network.”

As passenger demand for IFC grows, the industry has responded with advanced technologies.

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A recently published study by Routehappy shows the industry is progressing. Gogo’s own close partnership with Delta earned the airline kudos from Routehappy for offering “the most flights and flight miles with Wi-Fi of all airlines by far.”

“Our installation team expects to touch 1,000 aircraft in various parts of the world in 2015.” –Michael Small, Gogo’s president and CEO.

But the Routehappy study also highlights the work ahead. While 24 percent of the world’s passengers can now expect to find some Wi-Fi service onboard, the world still lags behind the US, where the probability of finding Wi-Fi in-flight is 66 percent. The study also points to a need for improved performance: 38 percent of connections rated as “Better Wi-Fi” and 1 percent as “Best Wi-Fi.”

To address this need for speed, Gogo has invested in the development of its revolutionary 2Ku dual antenna technology – for which it recently received blanket FCC approval. The specially designed shallow antenna reduces drag and avoids risks from birdstrikes, while delivering bandwidth peak capacity up to 70Mbps, 20 times faster than Gogo’s original ATG service.

“2Ku will bring significantly more bandwidth at what we estimate will be half the costs of competing solutions available in the market today,” added Small. “We believe this technology is transformative for global aviation in terms of Internet speeds, capacity, coverage, costs and reliability.”

Gimme Shelter: Pop-Up Privacy in Airports

Napcabs at Munich Airport
Napcabs at Munich Airport

You’ve been traveling for the past 26 hours: long-haul flights, layovers and long, long concourses that seem to stretch into infinity as you walk. You’re so tired, you may just flop over right now. First-class lounge? Nope… but there’s still hope.

We’ve already looked at micro-hotels built into (or pulled up alongside) the airport, but what if we blur the line between public and private space even more?

Munich Airport is home to two clusters of napcabs. As the name suggests, these are tiny self-service cubicles which the weary traveler rents with the swipe of a credit card and the tap of a touchscreen. Each napcab measures in at four square meters: Quite a bit bigger than a capsule hotel pod, but without the lobby or additional amenities. After you’ve rested for a few hours, you open the door to find yourself right back amid the hustle and bustle of the concourse. When you check out, cleaning staff are alerted to swing by and change the sheets.

Rest: Easy

Obsideon Pod Roger Kellenberger

Even more minimal is the Obsideon Pod, designed by Roger Kellenberger. Envisioned as a branding opportunity for individual airlines as well as airports, the Obsideon Pod offers a loosely-defined private space for the passenger along with a secure bay for her hand luggage. Once reclined in the circular plod, its iris doors close so she may wrangle her e-mails, catch up on some proper work, or just grab a quick nap. According to Kellenberger’s design scheme, the passenger reserves the Obsideon Pod with her airline ticket to minimize user-experience friction.

Beyond 40 Winks

Singapore’s Changi Airport not only offers free nap chairs, but also features free cinema screenings for its passengers, as well as a giant slide. Spend 10 bucks at the airport and you get a ride. Surely a giant slide counts as a semi-private space, albeit one you move through rather quickly.

At Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, one company’s product placement is your temporary oasis. Samsung and CDG teamed up to deliver Soundcorner (Espace Musique in French), a series of padded alcoves in which you can kick back and listen to music via a Samsung Galaxy Tab (or your own device).

CDG pods
Soundcorner, Charles de Gaulle Airport

Also at CDG, Sony opened a lounge to showcase its 40-inch Bravia displays: You and your traveling companion can cozy up in one of five couches and watch a movie in your own little micro-cinema.

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Bravia lounge Charles de Gaulle Airport

Traveler desires for temporary sanctuary, especially at busy international hubs, presents a huge passenger-experience and branding opportunity to the airlines and airports willing to step up.

High Speed In-Flight Wi-Fi On the Rise

2014 was a banner year for consumers seeking high speed Internet onboard flights. According to a recent study from Routehappy, 52 airlines now offer broadband-quality in-flight Wi-Fi in most regions of the globe, with such services set to become increasingly ubiquitous in 2015 and beyond.

Routehappy JB UN

Routehappy’s study of in-flight Wi-Fi availability is the most comprehensive study yet on the subject. CEO Robert Albert explained the scope of the project: “Wi-Fi is one of the most sought after new amenities fliers want to access on their flights, and there has been significant investment by airlines since our last report,” Albert said. “Coverage is starting to be meaningful on flights worldwide, along with a wide variety of speeds, coverage availability, and pricing models, including free of charge. The industry needs a trustworthy source of truth for in-flight Wi-Fi offerings. Routehappy has decided to make it a focus area, and is pleased to have greatly enhanced our Wi-Fi data in our Scores & Happiness Factors API to benefit users of our customer sites.”

Routehappy’s study reveals that JetBlue and United Airlines are the ones to beat when it comes to offering top quality in-flight Wi-Fi. Only these airlines were included in the “Best Wi-Fi” category for offering the “most technically advanced systems capable of streaming video.”

JetBlue partnered with LiveTV to launch the Beta version of their Fly-Fi® service, which promises a robust online experience with speeds rivaling anything passengers would find on the ground. LiveTV’s Ka-band satellite technology offers browsing capacities up to 100 times greater than those provided by older Ku-band satellites. Fly-Fi® is currently free, but passengers can pay to access a higher bandwidth version of the service.

United Airlines teamed up with Gogo to offer passengers a wide selection of Wi-Fi plans catering to different types of flyers, with hourly passes, day passes and month-to-month subscriptions available. None of United Airlines’ Wi-Fi options are complimentary, but given the implementation costs it seems highly likely that most airlines will charge for the service.

Although JetBlue and United Airlines offer technologically superior in-flight browsing experiences, they still face competition from rival airlines in other categories. Delta Airlines has more Wi-Fi-ready planes than JetBlue and United Airlines combined, and Virgin Airlines offers Wi-Fi to a higher percentage of their economy class customers than any other airline.

As airlines continue to roll out their Wi-Fi integration plans and high-speed in-flight browsing begins to take off, the landscape of the competition will undoubtedly undergo some shifts, and Routehappy will be there to keep track of them.

Click here for the full infographic.