Dubai Airport - where machine learning is building the airport of the future

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Heading to the airport has become a necessary process for almost all business professionals these days, but all too often, the airport can be a minefield of potential hold-ups or stressful procedures.

However this may all be about the change, as Dubai Airport is looking to introduce a new way of travelling that utilises the latest connected technology to ensure their passengers have as smooth as journey as possible.

The company is using advanced machine learning techniques, powered by Splunk’s Enterprise platform, to transform the airport experience from start to finish. Speaking at the Splunk .conf 2017 event in Washington DC this week, Michael Ibbitson, EVP of technology and innovation at Dubai Airport, outlined how advanced machine learning can be the key to improving all areas of the airport.

Dubai Airport is currently the world’s busiest international airport, handling 90 million passengers this year. But with this figure expected to rise to around 100 million by 2020, and any possible physical expansion of the airport hindered by the limited geographical location, Ibbitson needed to find improvements elsewhere.

Ibbitson, who was previously CIO at London’s Gatwick Airport, where he helped push forward several breakthrough IT advances, noted that, "growth has to come through innovation, it has to come through improving processes and automation...we don't want to be just the biggest and busiest, we also want to be the best!”

The airport is supported by a huge network of connected sensors to monitor the various processes that many of us are familiar with. This includes queuing at security, where sensors track queue lengths and the time taken to process passengers, with solutions and bottlenecks spotted quickly, and Ibbitson noting that the goal is to cut security waiting to just five minutes per passenger.

Dubai Airport is also looking to stand out in terms of its free Wi-Fi network, which is among the fastest in the world today. "We wanted to make the best airport wi-fi the world has ever seen,” Ibbitson states, “we wanted everyone to do everything." To do this however, required extensive real-time monitoring of the entire airport to spot blackspots, with all this data relaid through Splunk’s Enterprise analytics.

For passengers arriving in Dubai, the airport now offers a service that will allow travellers to track how long it will take to get their luggage, directly to their smartphone - no mean feat, Ibbitson revealed, when the airport is set to handle 150 million bags this year. 

Even the airport bathrooms are getting a technology-savvy makeover, as Ibbitson revealed details on what the company calls the “golden bathroom”, using sensor information to see just how customers utilise the facilities throughout the airport. This has led to breakthroughs in terms of predictive maintenance, but also in customer hygiene, as the sensors can even measure how many people wash their hands before leaving.

"We've made fantastic strides in measuring our business," Ibbitson noted, "Splunk is at the heart of this...it's really making a big difference."