The creators of a nifty, high-tech airport-arrival app in development won this year’s first-ever “Six-Minute Pitch” competition at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) 92nd Annual Meeting. I recently had the opportunity, while they were basking in their victorious glory, to ask co-developers Robert Rodden and Susan Paulus a few questions.
Tell me about your app.
It’s called On-Time Arrival and it provides your estimated time of arrival at your flight’s gate given your current location and the current conditions between you and your flight’s gate. Essentially, it’s a way to ensure that you get to the airport on time, every time.
Why do people need On-Time Arrival?
You’ll have greatly reduced stress when traveling because On-Time Arrival prevents you from getting to the airport too early, causing you to sit around and wait, or missing a flight because you misestimated traffic or security delays.
Do others – like airport operators, airlines, or the Transportation Security Administration – have a use for it?
The patent-pending On-Time Arrival system will provide TSA with real-time data for their My TSA app, which currently uses crowdsourced data.
They can also use the data to optimize operations by providing metrics related to in-airport delays, as well as data on internal forms of transit. Another feature of the system will be monitors at airport-security checkpoints to inform air travelers of the delay at that checkpoint and other nearby checkpoints within the same terminal.
Do you have any competition? What can On-Time Arrival do that other apps like Waze or Google Maps can’t do?
The Google Maps application programming interface (API) will actually be used to gather information on your in-current traffic time from your current location to the airport, so our system complements Google Maps by providing data at the airport. Waze also is focused on vehicular travel. There are no direct competitors at this time.
An app called Just Landed provides comparable data on the journey from the user’s current location to the airport, but it focused on picking someone up from the airport. A number of apps include crowdsourced data for the estimated delay through security including My TSA, GateGuru, and FlyOnTime. The On-Time Arrival system is the only means of having real-time estimates of all these components to get you to your gate on time, every time.
How does it work, technologically?
Bluetooth sensing devices are strategically placed at the airport to isolate the various paths an individual might take between the airport entrance and each terminal (parking a car, returning a rental car, getting dropped off, and more). By isolating each path and anonymously detecting Media Access Control (MAC) addresses of the devices carried by individuals and recording the time they pass a device, we can calculate the amount of time it takes for any such path.
So if the parking lot at the airport is pretty full and it will take 15 more minutes to find a spot, we can see that in the data. The system also will be capable of determining the delay at each TSA security checkpoint in real-time. Of course, the technology is quite a bit more complicated and much filtering will be necessary (to account for if you have priority access through security, for example) and we’re still working on those details.
How do you get around the fact that so much transportation data is so segmented or flat-out not available? Is that a problem for your product?
Do you have a story about how you were inspired to invent On-Time Arrival?
The idea came to Robert a couple of years ago when he wanted to find a solution to help his co-workers. His boss is the type of experienced traveler who likes to arrive at the airport just in time to walk onto the plane as they are closing the door, always risking that he will miss a flight. One of his other coworkers is a nervous traveler who likes to be at the gate with plenty of time to spare so that he never risks missing a flight. With On-Time Arrival, his boss can know for certain how close he’s actually cutting it and his coworker might be less stressed when he has to travel with their boss.
What was the most valuable advice you received from the “Six-Minute Pitch” Shark Tank judges?
Consider not developing our own app and, instead, focus on partnering with the airports and airlines to have the On-Time Arrival system included in their already-available apps. This way we collaborate with the parties interested in the data and the system rather than being competitors.
What are the next steps?
We are planning to apply to several incubator/accelerator programs that are focused on jumpstarting technology startups and connecting the startups with potential investors. We are also considering other applications, including one for amusement parks that shows where you are and the wait time for the rides near you.
TRB has already decided that the Six-Minute Pitch was such a success, with about 400 people in the audience during the competition, that it will continue to be an annual event as part of the conference. So stay tuned here for more about that.