18:23 PM

5 cool innovations we saw at the ACI-NA expo

At one of the country's top airport industry conferences of the year, we got a peek at some of the latest and greatest in passenger and guest amenities.

Tampa International Airport had the pleasure of being the host airport for this year’s ACI-NA Annual Conference & Exposition held at the Tampa Convention Center, where product reps and business owners from all over the world came together this week to show off some of the most cutting-edge airport innovations on the market. The expo show floor was a playground of new ideas, designs, solutions and inventions – some that are already available in airports around the world, some that are coming and some that could be precursors to the types of terminal amenities and technology we could see in the future.

Here are five things we saw that we thought were pretty cool:

1) Faucet-sized hand dryers

While this seems like a luxury item, how nice would it be to wash your hands at an airport bathroom and not have to drip your way over to a paper towel dispenser or hunt down the closest air dryer? With the D|13 integrated sink system, little powerful hand dryers are right there next to the faucet and soap, allowing easy drying that’s clean, sustainable and oh so convenient, making a nice impression on the passengers passing through the loo.

2) Vibrating foot stools to help with tired legs and bodies

Long-haul flights and sprints through airports can take their toll on weary travelers. The BodyCharger is a “whole body vibration” machine that airports can offer as a foot rest in waiting areas, and it claims to increase “circulation and stimulation of the neuromuscular junction to increase delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells.” We can’t confirm nor deny the science behind this, but we do know 30 seconds of this left our feet and legs feeling refreshed and ready to run again. We didn’t even have to remove our shoes.

3) Windows that turn light into electricity

Modern airports trend toward being spacious, bright places with lots of windows, glass and natural light, especially as so many U.S. airports are undergoing terminal renovations and rebuilding. Why not put some of that glass to work in collecting electricity that powers the terminals? While solar-collecting photovoltaic (PV) glass is not a new invention, Onyx Solar has improved the product to provide the same sound-proofing, sturdiness and thermal protection you see in conventional building glass while also providing clean energy and helping places like the Miami Heat Stadium and the famous Dubai Frame skyscraper reduce their carbon footprint.

4) Biometric everything

Tampa International Airport is already pilot testing biometric screening at some of its international gates, but we envision a time in the not-too-distant future where the entire airport entry and exit process is a seamless set of face-scanning checkpoints – no paper tickets, passports or other documents required. Collins Aerospace showed us how it’s done with a virtual reality demonstration of biometrics that began with self-check stations, bag check and drop areas, e-gates to direct passenger flow to the proper areas, customs checkpoints and other aspects of the airport experience.

5) Pre-charged battery vending machines

Most large airports have upped their charging station game in recent year, and this includes TPA, which in recent years added thousands of outlets for passengers to use for their cell phones, tablets and laptops. But what about travelers on the go who don’t have the time to sit and stay tethered? Some airports and theme parks now have little FuelRod kiosks, where you can buy fully charged battery pack systems complete with USB cables and then when they’re out of power, you can swap them out for a small fee and get another fully charged battery. The little rods have enough power to bring a dead phone to nearly 100 percent life, and if there’s no kiosks around, you can always recharge them yourself.