Spent too long in duty free? Airport uses AR maps so you won’t miss your flight

Finding your way quickly around an airport isn’t always an easy task, given the size, layout, and the number of other people who are often also trying to move around it at the same time. Add in that a fair percentage of them may be sleep-deprived or suffering from jet lag, and it’s a navigational nightmare. New technology installed at Gatwick, the U.K.’s second busiest airport, aims to take away some of the pain, and make getting to your flight on time (or the duty free shop) much easier.

It’s doing this with the aid of 2,000 newly installed beacons, the same technology that will eventually be used to make our citiesshopping areas, and shops smarter, which communicate with our phones to pinpoint location, and guide us to a destination. It doesn’t stop there. Instead of a helicopter view on a dull mapping app, you’re guided around using augmented reality on your phone. Using the camera, the app will overlay directions on a real-time view of the airport around you. It’s the first time these two systems have come together in an airport.

The beacons and mapping apps are clever, recognizing when you need to change floors, enter security, or pass new areas under construction, so they don’t guide you through restricted places. They’re accurate to around three meters, which is good enough for you to see what you’re looking for when you look up from your phone. We’re promised no personal data will be stored when using the system, but the airport may use information gathered to understand the busiest areas, enabling further improvements.

Engineers at Gatwick installed the beacons, which are battery operated to save on energy costs and to simplify logistics, in just three weeks, while testing took two months. It’s still early days for the project, and right now the airport’s management will use the app to guide passengers, but in time the beacons can also be used by retailers and airlines. For example, a shop may send offers or welcome notifications, while an airline could send a hurry-up message to late-running passengers.

Part of a massive 2.5 billion British pound investment program (equal to about $3.2 billion), Gatwick Airport worked with indoor mapping experts PointrLabs on the project. It recently introduced a similar setup, just without the augmented reality, for Virgin Trains at London’s King’s Cross station.

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