Post-Pandemic Technology Will Change the Airport Experience

June 02, 2020 by Gary Elinoff

Just as we saw a major shift in airport security following 9/11, we're likely to see major technological changes in airports post-COVID-19.

Aside from 9/11, few events have impacted the meaning of public safety like COVID-19, and few places face greater challenges to face those public safety goals than airports. People from all over the globe are packed in close quarters with little ability to practice social distancing.

In response to this unprecedented challenge, airports worldwide are working with a range of technologies to contain the spread of COVID-19. A recent LA Times article outlines some of these technologies that may become permanent fixtures in airports worldwide, including thermal cameras, touchless screening kiosks, and even sanitation booths.


Thermal Cameras

One way to provide better public safety is by screening for temperature since elevated temperature is often an indicator of infection. Rather unobtrusively, thermal cameras can read a passenger’s temperature from over seven feet away. This allows human screeners to perform their functions with no danger of infection to themselves.

One company, Infrared Cameras, is now undergoing testing of such thermal temperature monitoring at both the Tampa International Airport and the Dulles International Airport in Washington.

But the company doesn't quite measure temperature in the ways you might expect—for instance, with a temperature sensor making direct contact with a person's body. Instead, Infrared Cameras measures the energy radiated "from the first 1/1000 of an inch of a surface." From there, the radiated energy is converted into an electrical signal, which then generates temperature calculations using a thermal image. 


Thermal camera temperature monitoring

Screening of temperature based on radiated energy. Image used courtesy of Infared Cameras Inc.


Since this is an established technology, technicians need only to adapt it for airport use. Those who pass are immediately waved on through, but an individual who registers a high temperature must undergo further evaluation by on-site medical personnel.


Touchless Screening Kiosk

With a design familiar to anyone who’s ever ordered a hamburger meal from an automated kiosk, devices of this nature may become ubiquitous as we edge toward reduced-contact technologies. But unlike its fast-food counterpart, this COVID-19 screening kiosk is touchless and scalable to the individualized requirements of each airport.

The Parsons kiosk illustrated below can passively measure temperature, and, if desired, can also be programmed to detect respiration rate and pulse.


The Parsons touchless screening kiosk.

The Parsons touchless screening kiosk. Image used courtesy of Parsons


The Kiosk will have internet access along with facial recognition software that can be employed to identify the individual being screened. Then, before it renders a pass or a fail, the passenger’s medical records can be obtained, and algorithms can determine if the physiological readings just made, compared to the medical record, might indicate a contagious condition.

In addition, an individual’s travel record can be retrieved, and if the passenger has transited through a location at high risk, healthcare personnel can take measures to treat the individual while keeping a paper trail of where the sickened person traveled. 


Disinfectant Booths and Robots

A more sizable addition we may see to airports in the future are disinfectant booths and disinfecting robots. Hong Kong International Airport is evaluating a disinfectant booth that completely sanitizes passengers. The device, from CLeanTech, employs a sanitizing spray and takes 40 seconds to eliminate bacteria from the bodies and clothing of people.


CLeanTech disinfectant booth

CLeanTech disinfectant booth. Image (modified) used courtesy of Business Insider and CLeanTech


The device employs negative pressure to avoid outside contamination during the process. Airport employees are currently testing the new chamber. 

Hong Kong International Airport is taking disinfection one step further by deploying numerous disinfecting robots that use ultraviolet light and air sterilizer. 


The intelligent sterilization robot for intensive disinfection

The intelligent sterilization robot for intensive disinfection. Screenshot used courtesy of the Standard and Hong Kong International Airport


The robot operates in public areas, and airport officials claim that within 10 minutes, it can eliminate up to 99.99% of bacteria in the air.

As we discuss in our recent article on COVID-19 tech, robots are likely to play a big part in the “new normal.” For instance, we detail a robot that disinfects surfaces, reads temperature, checks for mask usage, and notes violations of social distancing standards. 


An Uptick in Public Health Devices

These developments illustrate a shift in the medical device industry—one that concentrates on public health devices. While many designers are familiar with the ins and outs of designing medical devices, we may see an uptick in mass disinfecting and screening devices that will appear in large public spaces like airports.


Learn More About Engineers' Hands in the Fight Against COVID-19

Disinfect, Diagnose, and Treat: A Mission of Doctors and EEs Amidst COVID-19

Electronic Design in the Age of COVID-19

First Molecular Electronic Chip “Revolutionizes” Disease Testing, Screens Many Diseases at Once from Portable Device

Will EEs Be the Heroes of the Global Ventilator Shortage?

Reader Question: How Has COVID-19 Affected Your Job?



Have you ever worked on a design that started small and developed into a commonplace technology in society? What was innovative about your design at the time? Share your experience in the comments below.

1 Comment
  • P
    pbrunnen June 05, 2020

    Those Parsons kiosks…  This is a joke, right?  “Facial recognition software ... to identify the individual being screened.” The flaws in current facial recognition is both horribly inaccurate because the training is incredibly biased. Multiple studies have shown them to be woefully inaccurate.  And having to share my medical record with such a system?  This sounds like a disaster for privacy and security…

    Like. Reply