Samuel Cheng
UX Designer & Engineer
Summary

Travellers at airports often encounter unavoidable wait times at the gate which vary between fifteen minutes to several hours depending on several factors. We attempted to make these wait times more entertaining, enjoyable, and productive by introducing an interactive foot-based floor display system. This display can be controlled by an individual traveller or by pairs of travellers sitting opposite one another at the waiting area. We foresee that this system would bring a delightful distraction to an otherwise mundane situation and encourage interaction and camaraderie between fellow travellers.

Details:

  • January - May 2017
  • Team of 3
  • User research, iterative design, Sketch, HTMl/CSS/JS, AJAX
Introduction

Waiting is unfortunately a part of every traveller's experience. Airport wait times are unanimously considered unpleasant and the general mood in an airport is tense, stressful, and sometimes even hostile. Travellers are forced to wait at various stages of the check-in and boarding process. At check-in lines, passengers have large and multiple pieces of luggage to deal with as they inch their way through the line. At security lines, which can be the most notorious for long waits, passengers are forced to stand in long queues. Finally, after passing security, passengers have to wait at their gate until they are ready to board. In an ideal world, travellers would be able to accurately estimate the amount of time it would take to complete all of the procedures from curb to gate and determine the optimal time to arrive at the airport in order to avoid long lines. However, since this is not currently possible, we attempt to make the wait more enjoyable for people thereby making wait times seem much shorter.
Motivation and Background

We started the project with the assumption that a majority of people dislike waiting at the airport. From past experiences, we assumed that a large number of people interact with their mobile devices while waiting in lines or while at the gate in order to pass the time. This would lead to a decrease in interaction among people. We wanted to introduce a novel technology that travellers would find interesting and which would encourage them to interact with other people. Therefore, it would have to be an interface that has a many to one ratio of people to devices.


Another motivation behind our project was to increase the availability of information. A large number of travellers rely on display boards for information about their flights such as gate, numbers, departure/arrival times, etc. These boards are not always located close to the waiting areas and are often small and few and far between. Therefore we wanted to explore different ways of relaying information to passengers in a way that is more readily available as well as more personalized. This could include installing new displays in different locations in the airport or making use of existing infrastructure.
User Research: Interviews and Survey Results

In order to implement the solution we decided to research the two aspects of the problem we were tackling: motivating users to interact with each other and increasing accessibility to information. We decided to conduct interviews and surveys to understand users’ thoughts, feelings, and actions while traveling. We also performed an ethnographic study by observing the process of boarding at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

A large amount of information collected from this part of our research confirmed our initial hypothesis about wait times at the airport. We found that wait times ranged from 15 minutes to a few hours depending on the type of flight it was (i.e. domestic or international). Furthermore, we found that the perceived wait time was much longer than the actual wait time. We also found that the longest period of waiting at any point in the airport experience is at the gate after completing check-in and security. We found that a majority of travelers prefer to complete all the pre-boarding procedures as soon as possible therefore allowing them to relax at the gate before boarding. The general atmosphere at security and check-in was found to be tense as travelers were concerned about making it to their gate on time to board their flights. Therefore, they were more intent on focusing on their surroundings during these times.

Another aspect we found interesting was how people interacted with each other at airports. A large number of people kept to themselves. At the gate, they used their mobile devices either for work, to check and respond to email or for entertainment such as to play a game or access social media. Very few people attempted to interact with the people around them. If a person chose to interact with other people at the airport, it was because they found to have something in common with them and therefore had a point of discussion such as both parties bemoaning a delayed flight.
System Specifications

Based on the results of our research we decided to build a system that would be useful during wait times at the gate. This system should be useful as well as entertaining and can be used for both long and short wait times. It should also allow travellers to view flight information. The system should not intrude with existing infrastructure at the airport and should be minimally invasive.

Our solution was to create an interactive floor display that would be installed in between aisles of seats. Each display is shared between two seats that face each other and would therefore encourage conversation between people sitting across from one another. The size of the display would be limited to the size of the floor space available between the seats and the display would be designed such that passengers passing between the aisles would not be deterred by the system and that users of the system would not be interrupted by people walking by.
Hardware Design

Using the seats in waiting areas of the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport as a model, several measurements were taken. In particular, the width of each seat (17.5”), the distance between adjacent seats (6”), and the distance between rows of seats facing one another (54”), informed the specifications of our prototype design. The width of the screen is limited to the width of each seat so that it does not interfere with other seats while ensuring that there is space around the seat to place luggage. Additionally, the length of the display only extends from one seat to the opposite seat to an extent that the user will be able to view the display comfortably while seated with their back against the backrest.

The input interface is designed to be a part of the screen. Unlike traditional touch screens which can be interacted on at all points, we designed this interface such that the user can only interact with a portion of the screen located closest to the users feet. This is to account for the limited range of motion and reach that users, irrespective of height, can comfortably perform with his or her feet. It also ensures that the major portion of the screen in the center cannot be interacted with and therefore allows passengers to walk up and down the aisle without interrupting users.
Software Design

From the research conducted we decided to design an interface that would provide information about flights and airports as well as provide functions that travellers would find engaging and entertaining. Therefore we designed a system as illustrated by the following figures.

In addition, from our research we found that a vast majority of travellers use their mobile devices to play games while waiting. We decided to keep this aspect of entertainment while designing our interface but at the same time introduce two-player games that would allow people to interact with one another at the airport. Our research suggests that people are more likely to socialize at airports when they have some form of common ground. Therefore, we decided to implement a 2-player game such as Pong. Other possible games included Tetris or trivia.

In addition, we included alerts for boarding and delay information to remind passengers of flight announcements while interacting with the system.
System Prototype

We developed a prototype of this system using a Raspberry Pi and a short throw floor projector. We interfaced the Raspberry Pi with pressure sensors placed under the screen in order to simulate the input area. The pressure sensors were fashioned out of a force-sensitive flexible material known as velostat. Velostat contains carbon black to make it electrically conductive. The velostat was cut into squares the size of an on-screen button and conductive copper tape was used to attach wires to the velostat and fixed onto the prototype screen.

This was then interfaced with an analog to digital converter chip MCP3008. The output of this chip was then given as input to the GPIO pins of the Raspberry Pi. A Python script running in the background converted the velostat resistance to button press signals that then communicated with an HTML app. A short throw floor projector projected the HTML app onto the white screen.

The interface consisted of a single web application which would handle the behavior for two different individual screens. The interface was first designed using the Sketch 3 graphics editor and underwent several iterations.


It was then built using HTML5, CSS3, and JQuery. AJAX technologies were used to load in multiple pages of an individual screen independent of the other. This web application ran successfully on the Raspberry Pi. The result was a working prototype scaled to the exact dimensions of the actual design.
Future Work

The system is designed such that additional games and features can be added to the interface by extending the HTML code. Therefore, future research and user testing could suggest changes to the system to make it more engaging and entertaining. In addition, a more personalized interface can be designed for passengers based on their flight information such that details about the airports they are visiting can also be accessed. This could be done by having the system scan a passenger's ticket or by determining the flight based on the gate at which the passenger is waiting. Future work on this would be related to the ultimate goal of making the waiting experience at the airport more enjoyable and interactive.
Conclusion

In this project, we designed and prototyped an interactive foot-based floor display for use in waiting areas at airports. Our vision is that this would augment dull moments for passengers as they wait for their flights throughout the airport concourse by providing valuable flight information, entertainment, and encourage interaction among travellers. By giving passengers a distraction, wait times are perceived to be shorter leading to higher traveller satisfaction.