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dmi: 2018 Design Value Award Winner
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dmi:Design Value Award Winner




Human Systems: Airports of the Future

Queensland University of Technology + 27 Partners in Government, Aviation, and Research


While we don’t often believe it, all airports were thoughtfully designed around hundreds of different stakeholders with competing interests. Airport and airline policy was also carefully created maximizing safety and efficiency. At one point in time, it was all carefully designed. But for whom? And does it still work? Most often the airport experience feels like barely tethered chaos. Negative associations with the airport experience can influence passengers perception of place, city, and even country¬– and that has real down-stream economic implications.

That is why Human Systems, a dedicated program within the Airports of the Future project was created. It was a collaboration between 27 entities– research organizations, airports, airlines, government, and others in the aviation industry. It gathered information through human-centered research with a goal to understand the interrelations between people, activities, experiences, and technology. The basis of the research was the close observation of passengers, airport personnel and their activities supported by interviews. To better understand navigation and airport security screening an eye tracking system was used. Observational and verbal data was coded. From this, the maps of activities that illustrate the relationships between people, process and technology were developed. The data was then framed into taxonomies to make it more contextual, accessible and impactful for longer term planning.

At the start of the project mismatched goals and differing expectations, misunderstandings, and lack of experience working on transdisciplinary projects created significant challenges. However, the progressive positive outcomes of the project forged communication and engagements between the members that created a collaborative research and innovation culture enabling project success.

By working closely with industry partners it was possible for the team to test concepts. One airport increased passenger throughput by 25% domestically and 15% internationally. Security costs were reduced by almost 20% with no impact on security risk. And a simulation preparing passengers for Customs reduced the average queue time by 2 minutes, saving approximately $930 per day.

Not only the knowledge gained but the research techniques developed in this work is transferable to other domains. Public spaces, ports, shopping malls, and hospitals would all benefit from the results of this initiative.

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