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IoT for transport

In 2019, CENSIS was commissioned by the Scottish Government to explore and support the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) in Scotland’s key economic sectors.

We held workshops across key industry sectors as part of our FutureTech programme, and as part of this programme, we explored opportunities around adopting IoT technologies in tourism.

The benefits of using IoT in tourism could include the sharing of information services where mutual interests are evident, such as near real time or real time interregional traffic or asset movements, visitor numbers, demands for accommodation, shared supply chain deliveries and unplanned incidents to longer term data analytics providing insightful trends and patterns related to for example local level seasonal preferences, fairs or construction works or wider like social media-driven interests or global popular culture movements.

IoT derived data can provide just in time decision making information to transform the experience of visitors who ultimately want hassle-free travel and accessibility to destinations, to be expertly catered for, to have information and entertainment choices at their fingertips, discover new or unexpected things and ultimately have a value for money  visit or holiday.

Some simple transformations a business could make to a visitor experience through IoT include:

  • From trends and patterns, being able to deploy more staff at the exact point in time they are required to manage demand, set up pop-up catering or transport services
  • Immediately solving an anticipated bottleneck in the flow of footfall
  • Delivering timely directions to free parking places or other transport options
  • Providing information on wait times or a ‘quiet, moderate and busy’ index for non-ticketed activities such as hiking trails, perhaps driving attention to interim or alternative interests
  • Knowing if something has malfunctioned or stock replenishment is needed
  • Capturing sentiment at the time of service

Information push using social media is one route to raising timely information, however IoT technologies can provide more inclusive means of communications, including local where required, such as providing metrics for dynamic signage on roads and walkways, change lighting of areas to influence footfall directions, open out areas and other crowded place management practices to disperse bottle-necks and improve footfall flow. These types of decisions can be supported by IoT networks being present at the site from where the data is being collected.

Use cases for Tourism

  • Visitors and vendors

    The most familiar kind of technology in tourism is geared towards providing information to visitors and the capture, presentation and dissemination of content, including social media content, using smart, mobile platforms such as personal phones, tablets and other screen-based devices such as digital navigators and smart watches.

    The value in adopting IoT based sensing and imaging technologies is where they can underpin and further enhance the information conveyed on these platforms.

    However, the ‘things’ in Internet of Things approaches are not yet fully exploited by businesses in the sector mainly because they don’t have ready access, explore and test out examples that could provide value and efficiencies to their offerings.

    There is also a lack of awareness about how IoT technologies could help add value at relatively little investment. IoT has roles to play in both visitor focused value; collecting data to enhance visitor experience, and in vendor focused value; improving business operations and delivering new offerings

  • Tracking

    Tracking technologies record and log locational data of an object over time and are becoming one of the most transformative group of IoT enabled technologies with applications in all sectors of the market.

    Within the tourism sector, the market offers a full range of options from subscriber third party tracking services, to DIY, bespoke unbranded, unpackaged solutions using off-the-shelf components and modular software.

    Locational data can be restricted to a defined zone or region such as a single room within a building or larger defined area such as a campus, parkland or estate. (Technologies for outdoors use may not work well indoors).

    Data from tracking technologies can be used simply to check the presence or absence of an item in a given area, or can be integrated into operations and processes such as providing supply chain/stakeholder hand-off times and locations or a job stage within a workflow.  Tracking objects anywhere in the world in logistics programmes is probably the most familiar application of all.

    How does IoT make tracking more accessible today?

    Tracking is not new: RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a mature wireless radio technology that has replaced barcodes in many operations. NFC (near field communications) and BLE (low energy blue tooth) are more recent additions to the tracking technology family which all offer benefits in the IoT space.

    The IoT related gamechanger in tracking technology is that for the first time, ways to acquire locational information have lowered the cost barrier from high value/bulk goods tracking to individual items tracking by the consumer and small businesses and organisations from any sector. Tags used in tracking can be active (powered) or passive (not powered), the best solution depends on the application, the operating environment, the scale and the available budget.

    The combination of low cost processing and electronics manufacture, cloud computing, different connectivity options and global competition gives tracking technologies a huge use potential in tourism. Products and services are on offer that suit almost every budget, the communications infrastructure is in place almost everywhere and the choice of devices that work on low power is steadily growing. n the following examples we highlight three tracking applications and their value in tourism; Luggage, Queue management, and streamlining operations

    Further reading:;

    Personal baggage tracking: Affordable tracking technologies have recently addressed an unmet need of many frustrated travellers with baggage lost in transit, either to turn up late or, worse, not at all.  These travellers are adopting new technologies and services targeted at this need and they have a range to choose from, including independent luggage delivery services that offer luggage-free travel with baggage location reporting. For the DIY traveller, there is a wide range of GPS and BLE-enabled luggage tracking technologies.  The BLE devices pair to a mobile phone making it easy to locate baggage among others in a store or on the carousel. The GPS devices link to the satellite services and we can login to the appropriate website or mobile app to see the positional data.  A combination of GPS and BLE is useful to have for indoor and outdoor use.

    Airport tracking services: In 2018 almost 25 million bags were mislaid by airlines and airports which equates approximately to 40 bags being lost enroute every minute. Baggage tracking services such as AirFrance’s Worldtracer are taking a leaf from the books of private baggage tracking solutions and services and worldwide, airlines are in the process of fully digitising baggage handling to generate operational efficiencies and sharing the data with customers using IoT technologies that can be retrofitted and integrated into current systems. This transformation is driven by the IATA’s Resolution 753 End to End baggage programme that aims to improve efficiencies and to meet the changing demands of passengers as the air transport industry is set to double in size by 2035.  The programme is delivered under IATA’s where luggage mishandling is being addressed through cross-industry baggage tracking for every journey.

    Airports are using RFID baggage tracking systems to provide a rich, real time data set for operational analysis and planning. The typical deployment mode is to share with passengers the tracking data via mobile apps as part of a self-service investment agenda for a majority of airlines over the next three years. Through the apps they can offer bag location status updates and delayed bag communications to passengers in real time as well as providing baggage handling personnel and systems a means to correct also in real time, potential incidents of lost baggage.

    Tackling potential operational disruptions is a major technology focus for airlines. Predictive analytics applied to baggage tag information will in addition to sharing information with passengers, help the airlines to identify and address disruptions before they occur.

  • Heat maps and queue management

    Managing queues is a critical issue for business, the optimum situation is to have a free flow of customers or visitors from point to point, but if there is a bottle-neck the wait time of the person in the queue is a business critical factor whether it impacts on reputation and customer satisfaction, a loss of sales, safety compromises or failing on a regulatory compliance.

    Queues can be detected and monitored using tracking technologies and the location points can be plotted as a map to show the movement and density of people in an area in real time or historic. The maps, often called heat maps, are used to understand how people use a space as well as identify areas people congregate, which could be due to interest such as an exhibit, a queue or other issue that is causing a bottleneck in the flow.

    Any tracking technology can generate a heat map providing the tag detection method is designed correctly within a space, in addition to the various radio tagging methods, existing security camera infrastructure can be used where a third party coverts the footage into a heat map as a service, this is made easier by recent machine vision technologies that can automate the counting method. Thermal imaging or optical imaging methods are used. More recently, event cameras are available now at less than £200 which are cameras linked to edge processors already trained to recognise human figures (anonymised) within a scene and able to count them.

    Tracking flow using personal smart devices like watches, phones and tablets is  a commonly used and probably lowest cost tracking method that can be used pretty much anywhere to work out numbers of people on foot and people in vehicles travelling city streets and concourses to inside buildings and outdoor environments.  The caveat is that there will only ever be a certain percentage of individuals within any single data acquisition point that will have detectable devices.  If you have sufficiently high throughput and perhaps in an area where majority of people will have BLE or wifi activated on their devices, perhaps free charging points and free wifi for example, your heat maps are going to be fairly representative.

    Whatever tracking method is used and the capability of the analytics and visualisation software deployed, data can be interrogated at a number of levels to give basic coloured heat maps with time stamp through to map view of dwell time per zone, flow routes taken and a breakdown of the metrics to identify where visitors spend most of their time, calculate the average dwell time, and provide insight into why certain routes or dwell times happen.

    Heat maps can be layered with other location based data to enrich the information generated and drive desired outcomes, support a business case or validate a marketing campaign or investment. Influencing an outcome could include routes people take through real time information targeting using external pop-up signage or dynamic lighting.  Nearby/alternative attractions or refreshments can be promoted using similar external cues that offer choice to visitors based on flash offers, reduced wait times, distance to travel and how busy an area is.  The insight can also identify where further digitisation may be helpful, such as distributed points of sale or RFID tagged products can be totted up in the basket during shopping again avoiding time spent at a point of sale counter; this in itself can be a footfall flow tracking method as well.

    An example of personal device tracking is in airports where airlines need to demonstrate service level agreement compliance in terms of wait times in queues. Heat maps are generated of non-personalised travel times, dwell times and passenger movement patterns.  If both customers and staff know how long the wait time is, expectations can be better managed and opportunities arise from passengers desiring to fill in the time in some way.  The airport can allocate staff to mitigate delays and keep passengers safe with real time space occupancy data. Operational performance can be optimised with age and gender.

    Revenue generation opportunities can be generated if people know how long their wait is that they may prefer to go off and do other things in the meantime.  If an associated app is available and the user agrees to share locational information, more personalised information about their trip can be pushed to them in return.

    Mobile device detection is scalable in that it can be applied in a specific area, or large areas for those travelling in vehicles or cycling. The latter works better if users subscribe to an app and agree to share their locational data to benefit the crowd.

    Examples; Queue waiting information

    Vox POPGuide interactive destination, mapping and audio app providing personalized information to users throughout their trip.

  • Event management

    When handed a clipboard today, we are most likely to wonder ‘where’s the tablet?” Event management provides good examples of how digital technologies are transforming workflow and safety checks, streamlining set up and freeing up time by the hosts to spend on ensuring good content and the experience of both vendors and visitors to the event. Less time is spend being caught up in organisational stresses that strain resources which also makes for a more pleasant and safe experience for everyone.  IoT is making an impact on event management just like any other industry sector which is able to gain benefits from receiving timely data.

    Mobile apps create an almost limitless opportunity to create interactive content for the customer. We are now pretty familiar with our event apps enabling ticketless registration, payment platforms, agenda tracking and finding our way around an event. However data gathered from IoT devices working as part of the background monitoring can support ongoing management activities, provide assurances related to health and safety, and underpin any risk mitigation  actions that may be required and which can be communicated directly to the customer via the app to enhance other standard announcements such as tannoy and signage.

    During an event the types of information IoT sensors can contribute include:

    Environmental comfort, sensors monitoring loudness of noise, air quality, temperature and humidity

    Crowding management, real time heatmaps can inform where staff resources may need to be deployed or methods to influence routes taken such as differential lighting and dynamic signage.

    Occupancy counts, event cameras mentioned in the tracking examples are an excellent way to ensure individuals are properly counted. The information captured has the potential to be analysed to calculate the average distance between individuals as well and providing alerts applicable for social distancing.  These may be especially helpful in bathroom and restaurant and other vendor areas.

    Parking may be made easier by deploying a parking aid, guiding drivers to free spots. This can be achieved in indoor areas by occupancy lighting triggers at each spot by a proximity sensor of which there are several different types from infrared beams to magnetic detection. Outdoor this can be trickier, but still possible, depending on the power available at the parking area.

    Information at parking areas can also provide visitors with information about alternative transport modes available encouraging less car use.  Average wait time on entry and exit can also be displayed in the area or pushed to the visitor via an app allowing visitors to plan their travel times and again, perhaps consider alternative transport modes.

  • Venue set up for safety checks

    An example of IoT in event management is provided by Core RFID. Here they have streamlined a multiple asset inspection certification workstream in venue rigging but the principle is transferrable.

    High profile entertainment venues and touring production companies are reducing the certification admin processes to a matter of hours using RFID tags to automate the scheduling of multiple inspection processes to specific assets.

    The inspection process can be captured using any handheld computer including smart phone and tablets.

    Assets are tagged with unique RFIDs which are triggered when a rigging or build has been completed. The information triggers a next in line work process which in the example is to call in a safety inspection. The asset-based RFID tag is linked with the appropriate inspection checklist on the handheld computer

    The same RFID is used to capture the sign-off process (or if any issues raised) and collates reports which are easily accessible to other relevant team members, and the client from anywhere.


We explored various areas of tourism subjects within our CENSIS FutureTech programme.

This is an area where Internet of Things (IoT) technologies could deliver huge benefits and enhance people’s lives.

Sector knowledge

Within the FutureTech programme, CENSIS met with people from different sectors to hear their ideas about the transformative potential of IoT.

IoT technology will transform business operations across Scotland and impact every sector of the economy.

5 subject areas

The Scottish Government-funded FutureTech workshops were held across Scotland throughout 2019 in the subject areas of

  • Food and drink
  • Health and social care
  • Smart towns and cities
  • Transport
  • Tourism

Take a look at organisations we have worked with

If you would like to find out more about our work with businesses of all sizes, public sector bodies and universities, we have highlighted some of the challenges we have faced together with our clients.