Australia's Elenium and its plan to make end-to-end travel seamless

The future, according to the company's CEO, will see a seamless experience from the time a ticket is booked to when the passenger returns home.

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Elenium was founded in 2015 in an attempt to make the travel experience for passengers less "clunky", as CEO Aaron Hornlimann alongside his co-founders wanted an airport experience that is as seamless as possible.

"We thought there must be a better way … so we started by building kiosks, bag drops, and boarding gates and trying to make them as quick as possible with the whole idea that somebody checks in in five seconds, drops off their bag in five seconds, and boards in five seconds," Hornlimann told ZDNet.

Based in Melbourne, the company has charged itself with developing "innovative stuff to challenge the status quo" in the aviation industry, which is relatively legacy-driven, he said.

Elenium has a presence in airports located in Sydney, Auckland, Mongolia, Papa New Guinea, and Hong Kong.

The company can be found during domestic check-in at Virgin Australia's Sydney operation, as well as when flying international with Qantas. The portable kiosks used at Auckland airport are also Elenium's.

See also: Australia gets mobile boarding passes as part of 'seamless travel' automation play

In Hong Kong, the company has provided portable check-in devices; battery-powered kiosks that are hot-swappable and completely wireless.

"They can deploy these kiosks on demand and take them away -- we've got a few hundred of those at Hong Kong airport as well as hotels," he said during AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas earlier this month.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Elenium, alongside Etihad, have plans to roll out voice recognition and an accompanying bag drop system that will allow the passenger to "talk" to the bag drop in April 2020.

"We're not trying to eliminate [the] face-to-face communication aspect, what we're trying to do is make things more seamless, more integrated," Hornlimann said.

"What we realised is if you actually take away the human part, where you can't talk to somebody the way we naturally interface, all of a sudden people somewhat go, 'oh what button do I press' -- people get a little bit frustrated, people who might not be that adept to technology, they feel intimidated by it."

Instead, Hornlimann said bringing voice recognition back into the process made sense.

"Yes, it's automated, yes, there is less human error and all that type of stuff, all those benefits, but at the same time, anyone can use it," he explained.

It's particularly useful if someone's travelling internationally and the local language isn't their native tongue.

"We just did trials in the Middle East where we had it working in both English and Arabic, and a person could walk up to it and start speaking in English and change to Arabic mid-sentence," Hornlimann said.

Around 12 months ago, Elenium made the decision to expand what the business could offer beyond bag drops, kiosks, and traditional touchscreens. The Middle East example is a result of this.

"We said, 'If we were to build a vision for what the airport experience should be five years from now, what would we do?'" he said. 

"And we said: biometrics."

See also: The growing legal and regulatory implications of collecting biometric data

While many organisations are working on biometrics, Hornlimann said the next level is voice recognition.

Using Amazon Web Services (AWS) Lex service, Elenium turns the voice to text and has it returned with context.

Elenium clams the hardware and software it has developed can deal with voice recognition in a loud environment. Its offering comprises of multiple directional microphones and a camera that looks at the person's lips to align the most appropriate microphone. Hornlimann believes this makes the process more personal and less ATM-like.

The future airport Elenium is looking towards is one where check-in will be performed before a passenger even enters an airport. They then simply drop their bag off with biometrics handling verification.

Elenium is also working on a robotic system to tag bags as it hopes to eliminate "all that fuss" a customer has to go through.

Biometrics would then handle the rest of the touch points, such as entering a lounge or boarding a plane.

"Making it nice and easy, so you don't have to carry a piece of paper … you've been validated at the very beginning and that's enough," he said.

"The solution, the technology behind that is available now; it's the willingness to implement it and having all the stakeholders involved -- that's really the biggest challenge,"

Something a little further away, Hornlimann said, is integration with border patrol and customs operations. While he believes the technology is there, regulation and government agencies are holding this functionality back.

With Hornlimann looking towards creating an end-to-end travel experience that runs from the moment an individual books a ticket through to their return home, he acknowledges this would also require partnerships with the likes of travel booking companies, rideshare platforms, airports, and telcos too.

"Things like international roaming … yes, they're problems today, but ultimately, they will be solved over time because again, they're not technical barriers, they're commercial barriers," he said.

"We really have a huge opportunity not just to generate efficiencies related to airports but then also generating additional revenue streams."

Asha Barbaschow travelled to re:Invent as a guest of AWS.  

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