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Mixed Reality

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

Technology Description

Virtual reality (VR) technology has long been viewed as primarily an entertainment device, commonly associated with video games. However, advancements across a range of technologies have led to improvements in VR functionality and increased general interest. The advancement of technologies associated with VR—including augmented reality and parallel reality—has started gaining popularity, with other iterations awaiting discovery. While still somewhat in its infancy operationally, use cases have begun to incorporate various forms of these mixed reality technologies to provide new and contextual user experiences in both commercial and consumer use.

This Publication identifies several technology solutions that fall under the mixed-reality umbrella, including the following:

  • Virtual Reality: computer-generated simulation of an environment that can be interacted with using electronic equipment.
  • Augmented Reality: technology that augments the real-world experience in ways that feel like a virtual experience.
  • Collaborative Reality: sharing a virtual experience with others and interacting with digital objects with others in the real world.
  • Parallel Reality: users in the same space experiencing a digital situation in different ways.[1]

Mixed-reality solutions rely heavily on display and optics technology, artificial intelligence, and interactive controller technology to allow a user to interact with the digitized environment. Mixed reality has seen recent investments thanks to improvements in mobile computing power and screen technology. Mixed reality can benefit from computing innovations that offer improved performance and varying form factors that can be tailored to different use cases.

Airport operators may soon need to consider how to support VR experiences for both staff and passengers. Operational processes can improve through the inclusion of mixed-reality solutions. For example, employees using mixed-reality technology can leverage real-time, contextual data in the field to identify and solve problems more efficiently. Airport operators can begin to identify other such use cases within their airports that allow their staff to benefit from mixed-reality solutions. Airport operators can also implement mixed reality–capable devices to improve passenger journey aspects, such as wayfinding, language translation, and entertainment services.

This Publication considers the potential impacts to staff and passengers when including mixed reality in the Intermediate Transformation Tier. Since the technology has been available to consumers in some form but has yet to formally take off, this Publication does not yet consider it to be fully transformative. Further, airport operators who do not choose to place a priority on the technology should not expect to experience negative business effects. And those that choose to leverage mixed reality on a limited basis can do so easily, since many solutions do not require extensive infrastructural changes and would mostly rely on computing power and software to support.



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


Technical/Infrastructure Readiness

  • Connected device data integrations
  • Effective mobile computing power

Process/Skill Set Changes

  • Staff use of mixed-reality solutions and inclusion into operations
  • Internal staffing skill sets to design use case–specific mixed reality solutions

Passenger Experience/Passenger Process

  • Improved staff interactions with passengers
  • Novel opportunities for passenger interactions with the airport environment


  • Provide emergency personnel with real-time information

Airport Design/Construction

  • Design to account for integrated and overlaid data visualizations


  • Data privacy concerns, as staff may have direct access into passenger information at a glance

Featured Impacts

Connected device integrations: There are a number of data integrations that must be in place to operate an effective mixed-reality solution. Internet of things devices provide a wealth of data that a mixed reality solution can leverage. However, it can be difficult to gain access to the varied data sources needed as well as support the networking infrastructure needed to transmit the data.

Improved staff interactions with passengers: Staff members could improve the service they provide to customers while working on the floor by having access to real-time contextual data through a mixed-reality solution, without needing to glance back at a computer. This access to data would better prepare airport staffers to perform their jobs, whether by using augmented reality to view a boarding pass and relay the relevant information or by having access to comprehensive training before they have to step onto the floor.


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

Computing Power and Hardware Requirements

Mixed-reality solutions rely on several enabling technologies to operate effectively. For example, advanced display technology is needed to provide high-definition recreations of the world or to overlay images onto a user’s field of view. To power these experiences, high-powered and mobile computing resources must be available in a low-cost model in the necessary form factors.

These requirements will vary based on the mixed-reality solutions chosen. For example, augmented reality solutions require mobile computing infrastructure and access to data integrations to be useful, whereas virtual reality relies on extremely high-quality display and image processing technology to recreate whole environments digitally.

New Process Creation

Mixed-reality solutions stand to heavily alter or even create new processes within an airport. Mixed reality can provide staff with real-time and contextual data wherever they may need it. This provides users with more information needed to effectively complete their tasks, along with greater contextual awareness while working. Staff must undergo extensive amounts of training, and processes should be redesigned to account for the added functionally provided by a mixed-reality solution.

Implementation Concerns

Although the use of many mixed-reality solutions may not require extensive changes in an airport’s infrastructure, infrastructure upgrades may support enhanced features of a mixed-reality solution. Data integrations and sufficient wireless networking technology allow higher quality and more dynamic mixed-reality experiences for users.

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 mixed reality.

Use Cases

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

Maintenance Solutions

Maintenance personnel must access extensive bodies of knowledge to solve equipment issues at locations across the airport property. Using mixed reality and augmented reality (AR) equipment, staffers can view real-time information virtually overlaid onto the equipment they are repairing. Access to this contextual data in real time can improve the efficiency and efficacy of equipment repairs.

Passenger Experience Solutions

Airport operators can help improve the passenger experience by designing solutions for passengers’ mobile devices, enabling wayfinding, translation services, and even shopping experiences through data integration.

Data Visualization Techniques

Data streams mean very little unless they can be effectively analyzed through data visualization. Mixed reality can bring new life to these visualizations for the front-of-house staff or management as they view and analyze data historically in real time.

Air Traffic Control Tower Enhancements

When combined with relevant data, mixed-reality support equipment can enable airport control tower staff to view airfield activity with real-time overlaid data.

Business Effect

Whether or not an airport chooses to employ mixed reality for its own benefit, increased mixed-reality deployments not directly initiated/driven by the airport organization may have an effect on aspects of the airport’s operations.

Supporting Engaging Passenger Experiences and Assistive Passenger Services

Mixed reality, particularly AR, solutions have the potential to become the standard in how passengers expect to access information, engage with the environment, or enjoy entertainment. Airport operators will need to monitor the requests of travelers in order to understand the technology that is getting popular and identify current deficiencies in the airport infrastructure’s ability to support these new mixed reality solutions. This may include the data integrations and networking performance necessary to support these experiences.

Other passengers who may begin to expect mixed-reality solutions are those with assistive needs. For example, some mixed-reality solutions enable details to be overlaid onto a passenger’s field of view, giving them the necessary context and data needed to complete their journey. Although an airport organization may not directly manage mixed-reality equipment, the airport may need to supply the necessary data integrations or operating environment for these solutions to function. As mixed-reality solutions gain popularity with various passenger segments, airport operators should routinely evaluate ways that a solution can improve aspects of the passenger journey.

Tiered Approach

Airport operators interested in new or emerging technologies, such as mixed reality, 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 mixed reality within their limited resources.

This article takes a tiered approach to mixed-reality solutions, providing use cases that are separated by the following innovation tiers: Reactive, Strategic, and Innovative.


Augmented Reality Interactive Fixtures

Art or educational exhibits throughout the airport property can be combined with augmented reality (AR) functionality to offer new entertainment experiences for passengers. Airport managers can tap into the mobile devices currently available that support AR capabilities.


Integration with Current Mobile Applications

Many popular mobile devices available today offer some form of AR or virtual reality functionality. Airport operators looking to improve aspects of the customer experience may consider upgrading airport mobile applications with mixed-reality functionality. Mixed reality–embedded applications can provide passengers with wayfinding capabilities, entertainment, and even retail engagement. These solutions have been trialed or fully deployed in both airport and non-airport scenarios with a wealth of knowledge to lean on.


Connected Mixed Reality Solutions for Maintenance Staff

Maintenance staff supported by AR-capable equipment can access contextual data in the field. Using this technology, staff could identify issues, consult repair manuals, and get work approved through connected infrastructure. Maintenance personnel can become more effective and have access to vast amounts of collective data overlaid onto their work. However, extensive Internet of things and wireless infrastructure deployment is typically needed to support these types of solutions, which appear to be long-term strategic goals.

Use of Mixed Reality for Data Visualization in Control Tower Operations

Control tower windows and visual equipment can be integrated with various data sources to drive new functionality. For example, control tower personnel could view contextual information overlaid on planes and other equipment on the airfield. Having information relevant to airfield operations can improve performance and increase safety.

Industry Status

Exploring mixed-reality 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 mixed-reality technology from both perspectives.

Aviation Industry

Passenger Translation and Wayfinding

Passengers can use the existing augmented reality (AR) functionality on their mobile devices for wayfinding and language translation. Airports are beginning to build this functionality into their applications, as mobile phones can support sophisticated AR functionality.[2]

Parallel Reality Dynamic Signage

With the increased adoption of digital signage technology, new opportunities have become available for how they can be used. Delta is currently piloting the use of parallel reality technology at trial airports, which would enable passengers to view different information, applicable only to themselves, while looking at the same screen as others.[3]

Non-aviation Industry

Operational Use

Employees working in the field are being equipped with AR and virtual reality (VR) equipment to provide data relevant to the tasks they complete. Google and Microsoft both have manufactured AR-based headsets to support this functionality.[4],[5]

Entertainment Experiences

Many consumers use VR to engage with media such as movies and video games. Mobile phones have helped reduce the barrier to entry for many mixed-reality products, while users can invest in powerful gaming computers to power more sophisticated equipment. Companies like Samsung and Oculus are currently paving the way for both mobile and computer-based VR entertainment.[6]

Instructional Training

VR and AR solutions are being deployed in training environments for varying types of positions, such as surgeons, mechanics, and military members.[7]

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 mixed reality technologies may leverage the functionality of other technologies or be used to enhance the functionality of another. As solution development continues, integrations with other technologies may become more evident.

5G Wireless

The network connectivity improvements offered by 5G, or fifth generation, wireless networks are needed to provide the data necessary to offer mixed reality. Mixed reality requires heavy data integrations and processing power to overlay high-quality images onto a user’s field of view. The potential to use mixed-reality solutions in the field is reliant on the robust wireless networking infrastructure that 5G offers. As 5G networks become more prevalent, developers can begin to design new and more sophisticated mixed reality experiences.

Internet of Things

Airports that employ Internet of things (IoT) technology have access to a wealth of data about their equipment and processes. Mixed-reality solutions can be designed to tap into this data in real time or through advanced data visualization techniques. Mixed-reality technology will offer new ways for airport staff to interact with airport equipment, whether that be through supporting the passenger experience or gaining greater operational insight.

Technology Barriers

As with some other technologies noted in this Publication, there are market forces or obstacles in development that present barriers to the deployment and widespread adoption of mixed-reality technology. 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 mixed-reality barriers.

Improvements to Enabling Technology

Technologies that support mixed-reality solutions—including network connectivity, visual systems, and mobile computing—must be advanced enough to provide immersive and useful mixed-reality solutions. Most notably, networking must be able to support the operation of mixed-reality equipment across multiple environments on the airport property.

User-Friendly Form Factors

Smaller and more powerful form factors of computing systems would allow the use of mixed-reality solutions in varied operational environments without sacrificing performance. However, current mobile solutions lack the technical capability to provide users with quality mixed-reality experiences. As mobile computing performance improves, mixed-reality technology can be applied to varied use cases.

Integration from Multiple Data Sources

To be truly effective, a mixed-reality solution must tap into data streams from multiple sources that currently are not available for many airports. High-quality data from various types of connected airport equipment—such as kiosks, baggage handling systems, and building infrastructure—are needed to provide users with the contextual information necessary to draw insights. New ways to gather and leverage data that are available in the airport process must be provided to make the use cases appealing to operators and users.