We all know the irritations of flying. Sometimes it is your smelly neighbour or that screaming child behind you. It could also be that weird dude trying to do yoga in the aisle or drunk/noisy people when you fly home from your holiday. According to a survey from travel agencies the top 3 of most annoying things about flying consist of: 1) screaming children (88%) 2) lack of leg room (76%) 3) poor quality food/choice (52%). For screaming children I recommend bringing duct tape to a flight. It helped me 100% of the time, but sometimes it started the event of screaming and swearing women on the airplane. The problem of a lack of leg room however is not solvable. You just have to deal with it the next few hours. (travel.aol.co.uk, 2012) (economist.com, 2015)
Our professor T. Li mentioned that the airline industry is not a very profitable industry. The Airline industry has grown a lot and it still continues to grow. The revenue the airline industry made in 2004 was 369 billion dollars and in the year 2014 it was 746 billion dollars. The growth was mostly caused by low-cost carriers (LCCs), which captured 25% of the aviation market in 2014. However the profits declined to a really thin margin of 3%. Every company in the value chain: jet engine makers, airports, travel agencies, service companies, and airplane manufacturers etc. are making small profits. It’s ironical that one of the most important link in the value chain, the airline companies, struggle to break even. (strategyand.pwc.com, 2015)
Airline companies have a complex nature of business, which is significantly determined by regulation and exogenous events. These companies must focus on their growth and on their revenue gains. Profits depends mostly on those revenue gains. (strategyand.pwc.com, 2015)
A way to make more profit is to reduce cost per passenger. Airlines request airplane manufacturing companies to make airplanes with more capacity per m². Airlines filed for standing passengers for short flight. However the idea was stopped by regulators for being unsafe for passengers. (dailymail.co.uk, 2015) Some days ago Airbus filed for a patent for new designs in their airplanes. One design is to stack passenger on top of each other and to remove the hand luggage lockers. The leg room will increase and airlines companies can fit in an extra 30% of passengers. (wired.co.uk, 2015)
This is not the first design that try to stack more passengers in an airplane. Previously an airplane company named Zodiac Aerospace came with the honeycomb-like idea, where two passengers are facing front and one passenger facing backwards. This forces people to have a little more intimacy with your neighbour(s). This looks like one of the worst seating designs in a while. However there are some other design that are probably worse. One idea of Airbus was to create a saddle-like chair to decrease the space that every passenger needs. Another idea was to let passengers sit in a more elevated position so that they reduce the need of extra leg room. (wired.co.uk, 2015)
PWC consultancy ask for caution with cost reducing acts. They say that you have to cut the fat and not the muscle. This means that airlines need to cut costs that does not affect safety, reputation, branding, or customer value. You can better reduce costs by improving your operational efficiency. PWC say you can also increase profit by: 1) increase customer expectations and get to know your customers better 2) increase digitization 3) choose your partners strategically. (strategyand.pwc.com, 2015)
The airline will continue to struggle with profit margin, but with the new technologies and shifting customer expectations great opportunities lay ahead. It is important for the companies to investigate those opportunities and to exploit them. Only then it is possible for Airline companies to make a decent profit.
It’s the year 2030 and you are walking with your friend to a cafe in a new city. You see this cosy little cafe and both of you decide to enter the cafe. As soon as you enter the cafe the hostess says: “Hello Mr/Ms “YourName”, we have a table near the back of our cafe as seen in your preferences.” When sitting down the hostess asks: “Would you like to order a Cappuccino, like last week, or do you want something else this time?”. You decide to order a Cappuccino and when you sit down you tap on the table to view the menu on the table. You get a list of recommended items in order to your preferences. You decide to order a tuna salad, like always.
This future event with your friend going into a cafe is pure fiction, however the knowledge of the cafe may be not. How is it possible that this café knew that you were in the neighbourhood, and how did it know what your favourite and preferred drinks/food are? The answer: “Smart Dust”
Smart Dust are tiny little microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that can detect i.e. vibrations, humidity, temperature, light, movement, magnetism, and chemicals. Tiny devices of 2mm each, work as an system to transfer data to each other. Each of those devices has a small “router” in them to send and receive information. The devices have a wireless range of maximum 10 meters. Due to the small range, it is necessary to have a lot of tiny devices close to each other to transfer data on a larger scale. Their energy source is solar energy, because they have a small solar cell and a small battery in them.
The idea descends from Kristofer Pister, a professor at Berkeley. When Pister presented the idea to his colleagues, his concept attracted the US military and Pister received funds to further his work. The first test was in 2001 were six tiny devices (MEMS) were dropped in a field to detect a military vehicle. The test was successful and they even managed to capture the course and speed of the vehicle. Last year a team of Michigan students successfully embedded solar cells in the MEMS to extend their life drastically.
There are many business implementations for Smart Dust. Pister accomplished to gather information about the weather in San Francisco with a radius of 21km using Smart Dust. Defence related implementations are also possible, such as battlefield surveillance and transportation tracking. Transportation tracking is also possible to control inventories. The tiny Smart Dust devices will take over RFID technology in that case. You can also think of product quality control. Some products need to be stored under certain conditions and smart dust makes it easy to monitor temperature, humidity, vibrations etc. There are more business implementation you can think of such as virtual keyboards, smart offices etc.
The main objective for the researches is to extend the life of the devices even more. When companies start to produce Smart Dust the variable cost of one device will be extremely low. The machines to produce MEMS will be costly at the start, but when this technology becomes feasible for companies it will be implemented on a large scale. Researches ask for caution when implementing this technology, because of the environmental impact. No one wants to live in a city with billions of devices floating in the air. Pister did inhale a device (MEMS) and said that it is equal to inhaling a fly. You will cough it up.
Another thing that researchers ask caution for is privacy. Smart Dust devices can measure a lot of things and they are still trying to implement new kind of sensors in the device. It is also possible that Smart Dust will contain microphones to listen in on conversations. Let’s go back to the introduction. It is possible that your clothes, Identity card and maybe yourself will contain Smart Dust which has information about you and will communicate it with businesses. Where camera’s are easy debatable, because they are visible, Smart Dust is not. People cannot see smart dust being there and don’t know if they will be monitored and for what purposes. Another problem is that information gathered by Smart Dust can possibly be stolen by hackers. You can also think of Smart Dust being used to spy on people or businesses. Someone can scatter some device in a house or conference room to obtain classified information.
Smart Dust is a technology with lots of potential and that’s why it entered Gartner’s hype cycle. It will take some more years to make this technology feasible for the market. Meanwhile the discussion how far monitoring of people can go with current technologies will go on and the discussion will intensify if Smart Dust will be implemented.
Kevin Schaap (358985)
M. Kahn, R. H. Katz and K. S. J. Pister (1999) “Mobile Networking for Smart Dust”, ACM/IEEE Intl. Conf. on Mobile Computing and Networking, Seattle, WA, August 17-19, 1999
S. J. Pister, J. M. Kahn and B. E. Boser, (1999) “Smart Dust: Wireless Networks of Millimeter-Scale Sensor Nodes”, Highlight Article in 1999 Electronics Research Laboratory Research Summary.
Hsu, J. M. Kahn, and K. S. J. Pister, (1999) “Wireless Communications for Smart Dust”, Electronics Research Laboratory Technical Memorandum Number M98/2, February, 1998.