British Airways Tests Innovations in the Sky

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British Airways Tests Innovations
British Airways Tests Innovations

British Airways continues to showcase its innovative ways with its latest “happiness blanket.” The blanket analyzes the “meditative state” of premium cabin fliers, allowing for flight attendants to know a passenger’s mood — possibly even before they do.

Tiny fiber-optic LEDS inside the blanket change color based on brainwaves transmitted via Bluetooth from a band worn on the passenger’s head. If the blanket is blue, that signifies calm or relaxation — most often seen when a passenger is sleeping. A crimson-colored blanket signifies that a passenger feels stressed or anxious.

While the high-tech blanket isn’t available for direct customer use yet, volunteers will be able to try the blanket on trans-Atlantic flights. British Airways plans to use the data from the blankets to continue to enhance the customer experience. The blanket color changes may influence everything from timing of meals to the menu to movie options.

This is just one innovation that British Airways —the first airline to explore the use of flatbed seats in the 1990s — has developed in recent years. In 2013, the airline inaugurated the UnGrounded Innovation Lab in the Sky, hosting more than 130 Silicon Valley tech leaders on a flight from San Francisco to London. During the flight, passengers developed 22 concepts aimed to help the global community with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills that, in turn, would encourage global innovation. The group then voted on specific concepts to present to the United Nations ITU Committee at the DNA Summit in London.

“Understanding the opportunities and challenges facing the technology industry, especially from a talent perspective, is critical to the continued growth of global innovation,” says Simon Talling-Smith, executive vice president of the Americas for British Airways. “Through UnGrounded, we had the opportunity to tap into some of the world’s most brilliant minds and demonstrate how ideas can accelerate when the right people come together.”

In collaboration with global design and innovation firm IDEO, British Airways transformed a Boeing 747 to create a collaborative work space in the sky where passengers could easily move throughout the aisles and discuss ideas with different groups. The airline plans to use the plane for other UnGrounded flights to different destinations.

In April, the airline also partnered with Solena Fuels on a commitment to build the world’s first facility to convert landfill waste into jet fuel. The facility will be located in Thames Enterprise Park in Thurrock, Essex.

Scheduled for completion in 2017, the project could revolutionize the production of sustainable aviation. Approximately 575,000 tons of post-recycled waste, which would normally be transported to a landfill or be incinerated, will instead be converted into 120,000 tons of clean-burning liquid fuels using Solena’s patented technology. British Airways has made a long-term commitment to purchase all 50,000 tons of the jet fuel produced at market competitive rates each year. The carbon savings for the airline would be equivalent to taking 150,000 cars off the road.

Solena will use its patented high-temperature plasma gasification technology to convert the waste into synthetic gas. The gas will then be converted into liquid hydrocarbons using third-party technologies, which will include cleaning and conditioning of the gas, a Velocys Fischer-Tropsch conversion process, hydrocracking and electric power production.


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