Finding your flight information on those giant densely packed airport screens can often feel as daunting as trying to interpret a wall of hieroglyphics without the Rosetta Stone. But Delta passengers travelling through Detroit will have a much easier time as a new display being installed there tailors the on-screen information to whoever’s looking at it: up to 100 travellers at once.
The displays, developed by a company called Misapplied Sciences, will be ready to greet passengers at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport starting on June 29 as part of a beta program with Delta Air Lines. Most modern display makers pride themselves on the expansive viewing angles of their TVs or computer monitors, ensuring that even people viewing the screen from the sides see exactly the same thing in terms of colour and contrast as someone parked front and centre. Misapplied Sciences has instead created a display technology it calls Parallel Reality that can completely customise what’s seen on-screen depending on the angle from which it’s being viewed.
The company’s website vaguely describes how the Parallel Reality technology works (it’s understandable that Misapplied Sciences isn’t keen on revealing exactly how its tech works) using a combination of software-controlled pixels that can “simultaneously project up to millions of light rays of different colours and brightness” targeted in specific directions, and some heavy processing power to track and target multiple viewers — up to 100 at the same time.
So instead of spending several minutes studying a giant screen to confirm which gate a flight is departing from, passengers travelling with Delta will see only the details for their specific flight on the screen, even when several of them are crowded around it at once. It sounds like a privacy nightmare, but assuming it works as promised, the information is only visible to the passenger while gazing at the display, and to no one else. But how does it confirm who’s specifically looking at the Parallel Reality display and where they’re standing? Facial recognition.
Like it or not, simply stepping foot into an airport requires some level of privacy to be sacrificed these days, but Delta Air Lines has been leaning heavily into biometrics for a while now. In 2017, the airline launched a facial recognition pilot program at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport that allowed passengers to optionally use face-scanning kiosks that would verify their passport photos so they could quickly check bags and avoid line-ups.
Delta insisted the service wasn’t mandatory and promised that passenger facial scans wouldn’t be stored, and is making the same claims here: “This experience will always be opt-in, and customer information is not stored.” Users can simply walk up to the screen, scan their boarding pass, and it will then lock onto their face and display their private flight information in a way that only they can see. But those already enrolled in Delta’s “digital identity” service whose facial biometrics are already on file just need to walk up to the display for it to automatically identify them and point them in the right direction.
As much as the displays sound like a big improvement to what’s in place now, it once again raises the question: is living in a dystopian surveillance state worth it if it makes the airport experience slightly less stressful?