LONDON A project has been set up to create a single system to handle all electronic communications throughout airport terminals. The TINA (The INtelligent Airport), system will manage a wide range of fixed and mobile equipment, including passenger information and entertainment services, security cameras, biometric sensors and explosive and chemical detectors, as well as providing logistical support for airport retailers, transport services and runway operations.
The multi-million pound project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) brings together experts in telecommunications and computer science from Swansea University, University College London and Cambridge University, along with a number of commercial partners, including Laing O’Rourke who are constructing Heathrow Terminal 5, Boeing, Ericsson, Motorola, Red M and British Airport Authority (BAA).
“The huge growth in international air traffic in recent years means that airports today are incredibly complex environments and, at present, there can be dozens of different communications systems and networks operating on one site. The single, converged system that we are working on will unite all these different systems, streamlining the airport’s operations and reducing network costs,” said, Professor Elmirghani, head of the Institute of Advanced Telecommunications (IAT) at Swansea University.
The project got off the ground when the team were approached by the engineering consortium building the new Terminal 5, which was looking for innovative ways to meet the increasing demands on computing and communications infrastructure.
TINA builds on research that was already underway in the three universities – the input from industry, together with a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), gave the impetus needed to turn academic research into commercial reality.
One of the main focuses of the project is active Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), an area in which IAT, together with University College London are particularly active. It is anticipated that RFID tags will be used to track a wide range of objects, including luggage and commercial goods, as well as being used on ‘intelligent’ boarding passes, access control tags and for goods location support in airport shopping areas.
Professor Elmirghani said: “To date, RFID tags have been used mainly by retailers to keep track of high value goods, and this has been fairly straightforward as the tagged items are usually static.
“However, designing an RFID system for an airport is a much bigger challenge. If you think that the busiest airports have more than 80 million passengers a year and each passenger could make use of up to five RFID tags, for example on luggage, boarding passes and purchases from airport shops, then you’re talking about a system that would need to track around a million moving tags a day.”
To meet this challenge, engineers at IAT and Cambridge are developing powered RFID tags that operate at low data rates, which will enable them to be pinpointed as often as twice every second. It is anticipated that this advanced RFID system could also be adapted to provide improved security measures at train stations and other large, complex infrastructures, where current security systems would cause unacceptable delays.