Smarter overhead bin to reduce to flight boarding time or airlines delay

bin fullMost of the time the overhead bin capacity plays a major role in flight boarding time or even flight delay, especially in domestic flights in USA. What if the overhead bin is little bit smarter, and can inform the gate agent if it is getting filled. So that the gate agent can ask the passenger to check-in the bags there itself, and issue the check-in tags.  Hence the passengers don’t have to carry the bags till the flight, and at a later stage realize that there is no place in the overhead bin. It can be even smarter. For example, when I scan my ticket at the gate, and I  see the current status of the overhead bin right above my seat.

I tried to solve this problem with a cost effective technique using Intel Edison and Microsoft Azure.  Lets watch the demo video first, and then I can explain the technology behind this.

The display unit is supposed to be placed at the entry gate, so that gate agent can see the live update, and mobile employees can have the smartphone app.  I have used the Intel Edison Arduino expansion board for the demo. In production, this entire setup can be a tiny one. Gate agent only need the display unit along with the Edison chip, and the flight agent only need the Edison chip with a button.  All the bins should have a Edison chip and a light sensor. This is optional if we want to automate everything. If the flight agent / cabin crew member is pressing the button, we don’t need the Edison chip inside the bin.  All the devices are connected to WiFi, and it should go to airplane mode before the airline takes off, so that we are not breaking the existing regulations.

Implementation details

I have used the Intel XDK IoT edition with Node.JS to develop this prototype. All the devices are connected to Microsoft Azure cloud. I have configured the Azure Service Bus topic, and the devices connected inside the bin (and the device carried by the cabin crew member) are sending the message to the service bus topic. This article should provide the details on how to send the message to topic, and subscribe the messages.    We don’t have to create the topic as mentioned in the above mentioned article, instead create the topics using the Azure management portal, and initialize the service bus using the connection string as given below.

Then we can send the message to topic as give below.

Here is the code snippet for the LCD RGB display unit for displaying the status with background color.

Let us hope that our airlines become smarter and cabin crew members don’t have to use the walkie-talkie system to interact with the gate agents.

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