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Advanced Computing

ACRP Periodic Report on Transformative Technologies at Airports
- May 7, 2021

Technology Description

Advanced computing is a term that references the various new methodologies and technologies used to drive innovative computing methods. Multiple solutions fit under this umbrella, including edge computing, quantum computing, and the use of new materials in computing equipment construction. Many solutions are still very much in their infancy, making the scale of the impacts that the airport industry may experience difficult to measure. As business cases are made for these technologies, further investment and research will be focused on these areas.

As multiple types of technologies fall under the advanced computing umbrella, this Publication focuses on several notable technologies, including the following:

Quantum computing: Computer technology that focuses on principles of quantum theory that offer the ability for each bit, stored as 1 or 0 in classical computing, to exist in a superposition of 1 and 0 at the same time. Eventual development could lead to computing performance greater than what is currently by available orders of magnitude.[1]

Edge/Fog computing: Network and system architectures that attempt to collect, analyze, and process data at the edge device to reduce data sent to the cloud, decreasing network latency and improving response time.

  • Fog computing pushes intelligence down to the LAN (local area network) level of network architecture, processing data in a fog node or Internet of things gateway.
  • Edge computing pushes the intelligence, processing power, and communication capabilities of an edge gateway or appliance directly into devices like programmable logic controllers, programmable automation controllers, and especially edge programmable industrial controllers.[2]

It is still very early to understand the airport benefits and where this technology may play a role. However, the complexity and data-rich environments within airports would encourage the use of newer and more powerful computing technologies. These technologies may soon power many of the newer generations of technologies used by passengers or help improve airport operations.

This Publication includes advanced computing in the Advanced Transformation Tier due to the potential future impact this technology is theorized to have, along with the fact that it is still unknown how exactly the technology will manifest itself. As development continues, airport operators may need to completely rethink how they deploy, manage, and use computing architecture. However, for airport organizations to potentially leverage this technology in the future, they must begin to understand where it impacts them now and what they can do about it.

Impacts

Until real-world deployments begin, airport operators will likely not understand the full impact that advanced computing deployments will have on their airport environment. This article outlines many of the high-profile impacts that airport operators may expect from advanced computing solutions as their usage increases. Following the impact list, two notable impacts are detailed further.

Impacts

Management/Operations

  • Fundamental change to previously understood computing limitations

Technical/Infrastructure Readiness

  • Current infrastructure is designed to support traditional methods of computing

Process/Skill Set Changes

  • Skill set additions are needed to bring on staff who can maintain and deploy solutions
  • Necessary understanding of technologies functionality to incorporate into current processes

Passenger Experience/Passenger Process

  • Supporting higher-quality artificial intelligence–enabled customer service solutions
  • Leveraging data analytics solutions supported by advanced computing technologies to improve processes related to the passenger journey, like staffing resource allocation or accurate dynamic pricing

Security/Safety

  • Improved cybersecurity performance offered by quantum computing and other emerging computing techniques
  • New threats to cybersecurity as traditional encryption methods are made less effective

Airport Design/Construction

  • Must account for design changes to current information technology (IT) infrastructure rooms to accommodate advanced computing hardware

Legal/Risk

  • Risk of vast functional leaps in the technology as development continues, making it difficult to strategize an approach into the future

Featured Impacts

Current infrastructure is designed to support traditional methods of computing: Current airport IT infrastructure has been established to implement and support traditional computing infrastructure. While the technical requirements of many advanced computing systems are unknown, they may bring alterations to previous IT support models. Airport organizations must prepare for additions, reductions, or compatibility issues with existing IT infrastructure before deployment.

New threats to cybersecurity: Quantum computing technologies reduce the effectiveness of current encryption methods, as they are capable of solving complex problems that are too difficult for traditional computers. Cybersecurity professionals within an airport organization must monitor the development of quantum-safe encryption techniques to combat the negative impact that quantum computing may bring.

Attributes

To better understand advanced computing technology, airport operators should gain a better understanding of its specific attributes. This article explores the operating factors of advanced computing solutions and some of their usage characteristics. Understanding these attributes will help airport operators determine applicable use cases for advanced computing technology and how their organization can support it.

Functional Leaps

Advanced computing technologies are still in the early stages of development. Ongoing research has yielded advancements at highly variable rates. It will be important for airport organizations to monitor trends in the technology, as new impacts to the airport environment may be identified through new technology developments.

Computing Power/Hardware Requirements

The emerging nature of these technologies makes it difficult to forecast the technical requirements needed to support their operation. Forms of advanced computing may rely on materials and techniques not used in traditional computing infrastructure. If proven to benefit the airport environment, airport operators must assess the noted gaps in their computing infrastructure needed to support advanced computing solutions.

Speed of Adoption

Market adoption of advanced computing technologies is difficult to predict without real-world experience. A technology’s potential use-cases, implementation costs, and technical requirements are all factors that can influence the rate of adoption. As users and researchers gain a better understanding of advanced computing technology, clarity can be gained around the market potential of the technology.

Use Cases/Business Effect

With every new or emerging technology, there are two basic questions an airport operator asks: “How can my airport use this?” and “How does this affect my business, even if my airport doesn’t wish to use it for our own benefit?” This article provides answers to both of these questions, addressing the airport uses cases and business effect of advanced computing technology.

Use Cases

As advanced computing solutions advance to a point of being cost-effective with widespread adoption, potential use cases become available for airport operators to incorporate into their organizations.

Advanced Data Analytics

Quantum computing and other advanced computing solutions can help organizations reach new levels of computing power. This additional computing power enables more granular data analytics, which provide additional insight into operations. Airport operators may use these new analytics to drive decisions or changes to current processes.

Reduction of Computing Infrastructure

New ways of computing can impact the general computing infrastructure within an organization. The requirements of market-ready advanced computing solutions remain undefined as the development of the technologies continues. The improved flexibility and performance of advanced computing solutions may allow airport organizations to combine multiple types of computing infrastructure into one solution.

Business Effect

Whether or not an airport chooses to employ advanced computing solutions for its own benefit, advanced computing deployments that are not directly initiated/driven by the airport organization may have an effect on aspects of the airport’s operations.

Increased Airline Data Demands

Airlines leveraging advanced computing solutions can address a range of business problems, from implementing optimal pricing models to identifying process efficiencies. However, to accomplish these objectives, airlines may want to gather more data from an airport organization to draw new insights about their customers and business operations. Airport operators should be prepared for increased and varied data requests from airlines that are leveraging advanced computing solutions.

Tiered Approach

Airport operators interested in new or emerging technologies such as advanced computing will differ in their levels of risk tolerance. Some organizations are comfortable at the forefront of technology and have the resources to support innovation. Other organizations are interested in simply exploring how they can use advanced computing within their limited resources.

This article takes a tiered approach to advanced computing technology, providing use cases that are separated by the following innovation tiers: Reactive, Strategic, and Innovative.

Reactive

Supporting External Party Solutions

Airport organizations that are unable to devote sufficient resources to the internal deployment of advanced computing solutions can provide the necessary operating environment for outside parties to deploy the technology. Airport operators should identify the necessary technical requirements and data integrations to operate solutions, including advanced data analytics, within the airport environment.

Strategic

Incorporation of Fog and Edge Computing Devices

Airport organizations can explore devices that are capable of computing data closer to the edge device rather than relying on central processing. This can improve the performance of the connected device by reducing latency and decreasing the amount of data that needs to be sent over the airport’s networking infrastructure.

Innovative

Ubiquitous Computing Infrastructure

Ubiquitous computing, also referred to as pervasive computing, is the incorporation of computational capability into everyday objects.[3] These solutions provide users with access to user-dedicated computing capabilities in multiple scenarios or locations through wearables—a category of mobile computing technology that can be worn by the user—to improve passenger processing in various airport locations. A user can seamlessly sync and transfer tasks between devices, allowing computing processes to adapt to a user’s needs in different scenarios.

These solutions provide users with access to user dedicated computing capabilities in multiple scenarios or locations through wearables—a category of mobile computing technology that can be worn by the user—to improve the processing of passengers in various airport locations.

Industry Status

Exploring advanced computing technology deployments in both aviation and non-aviation industries can provide airport operators with a better understanding of the technology as a whole. This article outlines the current state of advanced computing solutions from both perspectives.

Aviation Industry

The aviation industry has not begun a notable exploration into advanced computing technology. This section will be updated as airport organizations identify use cases and experiment with advanced computing solutions.

Non-aviation Industry

Quantum Computing

New technological deployments and advancements have driven many technology companies to begin experiments. For example, Google and IBM have both looked into investing resources to push the technology forward.[4]

Technology Interaction

Technology solutions may enable or be supported by other types of technologies. In some cases, the advancement of one technology may be vital to the effective use of another. This article highlights some of the high-level ways that advanced computing technologies may leverage the functionality of other technologies or be used to enhance the functionality of another technology. As solution development continues, integrations with other technologies may become more evident.

Artificial Intelligence

The performance improvements of advanced computing can enhance current artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. AI solutions that leverage advanced computing technologies could offer faster data processing, improved machine learning capabilities, and a wider selection of use cases. For example, AI solutions can leverage emerging advanced computing technologies to eliminate the constraints of traditional computing infrastructure.

Digital Twin

Advanced computing technology may enhance digital twin solutions, as it can provide higher processing speeds to execute real-time simulations and visualizations.

Technology Barriers

As with other technologies noted in this Publication, there are market forces or obstacles in development that present barriers to the deployment and widespread adoption of advanced computing technologies. Keeping abreast of these barriers can help airport operators know when to expect to see wider use of this technology in the public and when they should look to reassess it for their own use. This article outlines the current state of advanced computing barriers.

Further Industry Research to Develop Tangible Solutions

Current solutions are still very early in their development cycles and require further development to be considered market-ready products. Researchers must look at potential use cases and develop ways to provide reliable and usable products.

Product Commercialization

Current advanced computing offerings are prototypes or test products. They are the results of large research and development investments and currently are not designed for sale on the open market. Further refinement of the process will be required to develop a cost-effective and commercially available unit.