Airport Authority speeds up innovation with collaboration

Startups showcase their innovative solutions at the Smart Airport Accelerator demo day (image HKSTP)

“The pressure of increased expectation of services and also increased challenges on a bigger and busier airport operation drive us to look at technologies to help us innovate,” said Andy Bien, CIO at the Airport Authority Hong Kong (AA). “We cannot acquire innovation by just buying stuff. We need to spend efforts to develop it.”

This was a remark he made in a fireside chat with two technology startups at the Smart Airport Accelerator demo day. The accelerator program was organized by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) with the support of the AA.

According to Bien, the AA is facing challenges in the operational, maintenance, and the commercial areas. He believes that innovation is crucial in tackling these challenges. “We’ve a few focus areas for innovation such as biometrics, data analytics, mobility, robotics, and digital twins,” he said.

Crowdsourcing innovations

HKSTP is one of the AA's value partners in driving innovations. The AA has been collaborating with the HKSTP since 2015. Their latest collaboration is on the Smart Airport Accelerator program under HKSTP’s Global Acceleration Academy (GAA). Launched last October, the three-month program was designed to accelerate innovations for the travel and hospitality industry. 11 startups were shortlisted to conduct proof-of-concept (POC) implementations of their innovations in a real-life airport environment.

When asked about the selection criteria, Bien said, “We selected solutions based on their applicability in the airport and their potentials. We look for solutions that can scale and evolve into the next stage.”

Lambda Sense Ltd and DMS Solutions (Hong Kong) Ltd are two of the shortlisted startups of the program.  They shared their POC implementations and comments on the program in the fireside chat. 

As a HKSTP incubate, Lambda Sense is developing machine learning technology to study people’s walking behavior or gait patterns. Its gait analysis technology can be used as a smart authentication feature for staff at the airport. It helps manage mobile workforce and reduce security guard operation costs, according to Lambda Sense.

“The program has enabled us to meet with vertical customers like the AA, to figure out some potential services, and conduct trials with our technology,” said Barry Leung, founder and director at Lambda Sense.

He added, “We’ve explored many ways to integrate our continuous authentication technology into the AA services such as the enterprise messenger service used by its mobile workforce in the terminal areas.” The startup finally made a decision to run a trial to see how to make an effective gait model for each mobile worker in the terminal areas.

DMS Solutions uses robotic process automation and image recognition technologies to develop intelligent automation systems for optimizing daily business processes.

“The program gave us a great opportunity to put together technologies and business needs in a real-life environment,” said Lilia Kanevska, managing partner at DMS Solutions.  Its POC leverages robotics technology to carry out time consuming and labor-intensive tasks, enabling people to focus on more value-added jobs.

Advice to startups

Willingness to try and collaboration are important for driving innovation, according to Bien.

“Firstly, don’t take our words. Startups can contribute ideas,” Bien said. “Secondly, it’s very important to get the benefits out there [innovation] and not just worry about possible errors.”

On the collaboration front,  he said, “If we group our efforts together, discuss openly about problems and maybe possible solutions, great things will come out.”

Both DMS Solutions and Lambda Sense suggest startups to leverage the opportunity provided by acceleration programs like the GAA to connect with targeted industries and conduct POCs.

“Don’t be afraid to knock the door. Bring discussions with businesses and start exploring on how you can deploy your technology into industries,” said Kanevska of DMS Solutions.

“Use your creative ideas, figure out the potential solution that can benefit a vertical, and ask for trials to test the solution,” said Leung of Lambda Sense.

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