Augmented reality doesn’t have to be just a marketing gimmick

KLM has been experimenting with Augmented Reality and how it might be applied to the customer journey.

At the Passenger Terminal Expo in Stockholm, Stijn Bannier, KLM, product manager mobile shared his team’s learnings from AR and mapped out the points along the journey where it can be more than just a curiosity for marketing promotion.

The airline’s pursuit of meaningful applications for AR is part of its overall applied innovation strategy, to identify customer touchpoints where technology can improve the passenger experience.

  “We try to be customer centric as much as possible.”

His team manages three mobile apps for KLM—the core airline app, the inflight entertainment and media app, and a dedicated app for collectors of KLM’s iconic gin houses given out to business class passengers as a gift with a limited edition each year.

The initial tests that Bannier’s team deployed of AR applications focused on easy-to-deploy AR enhancements around these apps.

“Every two weeks we have one day for innovation and we tried to see what we can do in one day.”

The first trial was a rendering of a KLM Dreamliner which could be superimposed on reality through the camera of a mobile phone. The point was mainly to use this as a guide to development time-lines, and to determine how complicated it would be for KLM’s developers to create working models. As Bannier explains:

“We could make something move in one day but it didn’t look very good. It took three to four days to get the plane flying, and adjust it a bit.”

One surprise that came of this simple development, once it was incorporated into the KLM app as a novelty, was that the airline’s customers actually enjoyed playing with it.

As Bannier says:

“People actually like it because a lot of our frequent flyers are airline/airport nerds and they want to know about what plane they’re flying showing this was quite nice. The use was quite high for a gimmick that we just put in.”

Bannier points out that this AVgeek appeal already has a big following in real-world AR applications like FlightRadar24, which allows users to scan aircraft flying overhead with their phones and identifies the specific plane and flight details on the app.

Gamifying the travel experience like this, to come closer to customers, is one way to approach AR, but it can also be useful information.

   “In the KLM core app, we are looking at search, booking and also preparation [applications of AR] and people want to look at what planes they are going to fly.”

Bannier’s team is now applying the lessons learned from the initial airplane model to a more sophisticated set of renderings used for brand storytelling which will be revealed in the coming weeks, as a tie-in to the new 99 year KLM gin house, dedicated to Anthony Fokker’s house. The team developed a story of the evolution of the Fokker aircraft, with AR aircraft models in-flight along with the story of the airplane design and a “tour” of Anthony Fokker’s house.

More day-to-day applications include way-finding at Schiphol Airport and a baggage sizing AR application which helps customers find out whether their bags are the right size for their cabin allowance.

Bannier believes there are other applications possible, like destination inspiration, where you can see yourself surrounded by the city you plan to visit, helpful navigation at the destination capitalizing on GPS, and communications/educational applications, like Google’s live translation of street signs and enhanced projections of information around sites visited.

For developers, Bannier says the tools are finally catching up with AR ambitions. While in previous iterations there were limits on the capabilities of smartphones, data transfer and GPS capabilities, these have advanced dramatically and so have development toolkits.

“Last year, there were some big AR influences that got the ball rolling. Both Android and iOS created all kinds of toolkits to enhance and help development and create an AR solutions with all kinds of possibilities..I think in the next few years it will be bigger.”

Related reading:

Not augmented, not virtual – it’s mixed reality that changes the game

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