API Development

Underlabs Introduces the Smart, Alexa-Enabled Airport

As the main point of entry to a city, region or even country, airports leave a huge impression on passengers’ travel experiences. Eager to impress visitors and make a positive first impression, cities are re-imagining the role of airports beyond moving passengers from point A to point B.

One such Canadian airport sought to build upon this vision and improve the traveler experience with new technology. Known around the world as a leader in aviation infrastructure, technology and passenger service—the airport was determined to become one of the world’s first “smart” airports. But pioneering innovation on that scale is no easy feat, and the airport owners sought help to pull it off.

Enter Underlabs, a Montréal-based mobile app development workshop and long-time business partner to the airport. Together, they would make the vision of a connected airport a reality by developing an Amazon Alexa Skill that could offer passengers real-time information on flight status, security wait times and other factors affecting travel plans.

“Alexa, what is a smart airport?”

A smart airport couples systems and processes between airlines, security, operations and other services. Leveraging the Internet of Things, they give airport staff and passengers access to critical airport and flight information anytime, anywhere. This fundamentally improves the efficiency for airport staff, as well as the intended benefit of enhancing the traveler experience.

To bring everything together in a way that was usable for travelers, the Canadian airport envisioned an integration with Alexa, Amazon’s popular virtual assistant. Through Alexa, the airport would be able to offer passengers a one-stop shop for various updates to their travel itinerary—such as departure and arrival status, flight delays, security wait times and more operational information.

Preparing for Take-off

Underlabs CTO Joseph Zibara had attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2017 and got an early look at the excitement bubbling around voice-enabled assistants. “We witnessed first-hand the eagerness of exhibitors to integrate their services with Alexa,” said Zibara. “As an app development workshop, we were equally enthusiastic about the opportunity to jump in.”

Although the firm had yet to build an Amazon Alexa Skill, within a week of presenting a plan to the airport, it was approved for take-off. As a crucial component of the the overall smart initiative, integrating the airport with Alexa would involve APIs (application program interfaces): the glue that holds disparate enterprise applications, backend systems, cloud-enabled integration and mobile apps together.

Zibara and his team at Underlabs had partnered with Axway Appcelerator for more than five years to facilitate their app development and understood how easy it would be to create and host the Alexa Skill Service with API Builder.

Smooth Sailing with API Builder

According to Zibara, API Builder’s ability to help Underlabs’ developers connect, model, transform and optimize data for any app client in a matter minutes was key to developing the airport’s Alexa Skill implementation.

Even when they hit some turbulence along the way, Zibara said that Axway was there to help correct and stay on-course. During the development of the Alexa Skill interface, Underlabs experienced an issue with testing their skill. Underlabs contacted the team at Axway, who  quickly determined that the issue stemmed from a known Alexa simulator limitation and that the Underlabs team had to use a physical Amazon Echo device.

This solved their problem, allowing the Underlabs team to quickly wrap up development. The team built the entire Amazon Skill implementation from scratch in fewer than five days. Now, passengers can easily check the status of their travel itinerary and receive other airport status updates at any time using Alexa voice commands.

Zibara sums up Axway’s help in getting the airport integrated with Alexa in 4 words: “‘Do less. Achieve more.’ With the Axway API solution, you start getting traction on your project and investment straight away because you’re required to do so little right out of the box.”

Interested in learning more about Underlabs and the dozens of apps they’ve help create? Check out their website here.