May 30, 2018 by Brad Grimes

Airport Parking GarageThe ballroom at the Sheraton Denver was packed for the opening plenary of the Airport Planning, Design & Construction Symposium. Put on by the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), with which AVIXA recently partnered to help increase adoption of audiovisual solutions in the thousands of airports around the world, the symposium brought together airport operators, architects, engineers, and more. The plenary was devoted to autonomous systems. 

At one point, Andy Cohen, Co-CEO of Gensler, one of the world’s leading architecture firms, told the audience that when his company imagines a parking garage, it eschews internal ramps for getting cars from one level to the next. Instead, Gensler encourages building those spiral ramps, essentially attached to the corners or ends of the structure. Why? Because when the airport, in this case, decides it doesn’t need the parking garage anymore and wants to convert it to something else, all is has to do is knock off the spiral ramps and renovate. If the ramps were internal to the structure, it would be a much greater challenge. 

Why would an airport convert a lucrative parking garage, which currently accounts for a significant chunk of its revenue, into something else? Maybe if no one drove cars to the airport anymore. 

There are those who look at the dawn of self-driving cars, plus the popularity of ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber, and see a fundamental shift in the way many industries operate. (Headlines: “How Driverless Cars Could Disrupt the Real Estate Industry,” Forbes; “Self-Driving Cars Will Change Your Life More Than You Can Imagine,” CNN). And they don’t see it as a year-2050 phenomenon, either (“G.M. Says Its Driverless Car Could Be in Fleets by Next Year,” New York Times). 

Self Driving CarsCohen described a world in which autonomous cars could reach widespread adoption in 10 to 15 years, starting with driverless deliveries in the next three to five. He talked about the significant impact on air freight, short-haul flights, and rental car services. His presentation specifically singled out Samsung’s purchase of Harman and its smart-car technologies as an example of how innovation is charging ahead. And regarding Lyft and Uber, he noted there are those who argue that “Driverless Cars Will Mostly be Shared, Not Owned,” The Economist. In light of all this, you can see how aspects of an airport’s operations—including its parking garages—might be ripe for sea change. 

Sure, it’s easy to dismiss what doesn’t yet seem possible. Ten to 15 years? I just bought a fuel-efficient, regular, Brad-driving car that I expect to last at least a decade. But increasingly, it would appear the writing is on the wall. Major technology companies, as well as car companies, rental car services, FedEx, etc. are investing heavily in an autonomous future. 

What does that mean for you? Well, if you can imagine that future, as people like Andy Cohen at Gensler do, you can begin to imagine your role in it. 

Already, airports are focusing on the terminal experience. The week following the Denver conference, I was in Dallas for another AAAE event, the Airport Customer Experience Symposium, which AVIXA sponsored. Over lunch with executives from Indianapolis International Airport, we discussed how airports derive little revenue from the actual act of travelling (tickets, fees, etc.). Rather, they bring in a good chunk from parking (and must eventually come to terms with aforementioned disruption from autonomous cars), but also rely on people spending money in the terminals, which means creating an atmosphere for lingering, shopping, and eating. So the question is, what else, besides TSA security lines, would make passengers arrive 30 minutes earlier for a flight and spend more money on food, drink, entertainment, souvenirs, and services? 

Experiences, including audiovisual experiences. 

Perhaps you’ve seen the stunning Tom Bradley Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. A collaboration among multimedia producer Moment Factory, MRA International, Sardi Design, and others, it includes several distinct, immersive, video installations designed to create a unique travel experience. I know, because you’re been to the InfoComm Show when it’s held in Las Vegas (registration’s open at www.infocommshow.org), that you’ve seen the massive Samsung video wall at McCarran International Airport. I’ve personally had the pleasure of being delayed in the new United terminal at Newark Liberty International Airport. I sat at a table with an integrated iPad and whiled away the time with content of my choosing and food and beverage ordered on-screen from a variety of vendors. Heck, Portland International Airport last year installed a small, state-of-the-art movie house, in conjunction with the city’s landmark Hollywood Theatre and AVIXA’s partner in Integrated Systems Europe, CEDIA, replete with technology from Triad Speakers, Barco, Planar, Stewart Filmscreen, Middle Atlantic, Crestron, Milestone AV, and more. 

To say nothing of the growing number of digital signage networks and flight information display systems that have pretty much become table stakes for 21st-century, tech-enabled airports. Across the entire transportation sector, from airports, to rail stations, to bus terminals, fresh opportunities for audiovisual solutions abound. At the AAAE Customer Experience Symposium, I met Todd Koch, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for Greyhound Lines. He told attendees the bus company is re-focusing on experience and is committing resources to the effort, including overhauling its terminals with technology. AVIXA is committed to helping build relationships between our industry and those in the transportation sector. 

Through new relationships, the visionary among us can begin to plan for more opportunities to come. For example, if airlines start sending autonomous cars to pick up passengers at their homes, or if travelers begin to opt for driverless Lyft rides to get to the airport, how does that affect the travel experience and what might be the AV industry’s role? One example: Gensler’s Cohen sees a time when those parking garages evolve into reimagined airport drop-off venues, replete with their own, welcoming tech-enabled experiences. Opportunity? What might those areas need? From wayfinding, to digital signage and video walls, to spatial audio, to mobile experience integration, technologists and designers will continue to help redefine what catching a plane feels like. 

About Brad Grimes

Brad Grimes is the Senior Director of Communications for AVIXA and the former editor of Pro AV magazine. He has been writing about technology for more than 25 years.