British Airways Could Give Passengers A 'Digital Pill'

An airline may think it has an answer to jet lag. The catch: the traveler would have to swallow a ‘digital pill.’

British Airways has applied for a patent for ‘controlling a travel environment’ by obtaining passenger data, most notably from sensors, some of which would be ingested by the passenger.

The idea is that airline personnel on board would know when the passenger is awake, asleep, hungry, hot or cold and could, at least conceptually, attend to those needs at the most appropriate time.

I had heard of this and wasn’t sure if it was true, until I got the entire U.K. patent application.

The patent application states: “Digital pills or other ingestible sensors, that detect internal temperature, stomach acidity and other internal properties and wirelessly relay this information outside the passenger’s body.”

But there’s more, including suggestions that personal data be collected before a person even boards a flight. It reads:

“The passenger sensors may also be configured to collect data relating to aspects of the customer before boarding the flight, for example over a predefined period of time preceding a scheduled flight and/or on the day before boarding the scheduled flight. The pre-fiight collected data can be stored by the respective passenger sensors and/or provided to the passenger's mobile device for use in determining and scheduling events associated with the journey segments.

The application references numerous different sensors to collect passenger data, sensors that ‘can vary depending on the physiological state of the customer.’

The passenger sensors could be wearable by the passenger, separate from the passenger or included within the passenger's mobile device. According to the patent application, the sensors could include:

  • Body movement sensors, such as an accelerometer connected to the passenger or by using a camera
  • Sleep phase or biorhythm sensors, such as using detected heart rate, movement or EEG (electroencephalography)
  • Eye movement sensors, such as the camera or a dedicated eye tracking device
  • Heart rate or blood pressure sensors

Of course, this is a patent application and not a planned rollout. However, it does give an indication of how at least some execs at one airline are thinking.

In total, the airline passenger data gathered could come from one or more of a temperature sensor, lighting sensor, humidity sensor, body movement sensor, sleep phase sensor, an eye movement sensor, heart rate sensor, body temperature sensor and an ingestible sensor, that digital pill.

Whether British Airways -- or any other airline -- can persuade flyers to take a digital pill should be quite interesting to monitor.

Now, if airlines could just take off and land on time….among many other things.

13 comments about "British Airways Could Give Passengers A 'Digital Pill'".
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  1. Steve Baldwin from Didit, December 1, 2016 at 10:07 a.m.

    This pill could also help the railroads. NY's subway system is subject to repeated to delays caused by "sick passengers." Such a pill could determine whether such a passenger was truly sick, or merely annoyed/anxious etc., in which case the stop signal could be over-ridden, thus increasing system-wide passenger flow.

  2. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin replied, December 1, 2016 at 10:18 a.m.

    Not sure that particular pill exists yet, Steve. It is just in the BA patent application, which shows they are thinking about it. Swallowing various types of technology has been on the table for quite some time.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 1, 2016 at 10:34 a.m.

    Should scare the living shit out of you.

  4. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, December 1, 2016 at 10:51 a.m.

    Clearly they have not thought through the liability issues. I wonder if the personal injury lawyers are in from of this. 

  5. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin replied, December 1, 2016 at 11:01 a.m.

    One of the many issues around this idea, Douglas, thanks for highlighting.

  6. John Grono from GAP Research, December 1, 2016 at 4:57 p.m.

    I hope it is an oral pill and not a suppository!

  7. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin replied, December 1, 2016 at 5:04 p.m.

    Yes, John, the patent application says "ingestible."

  8. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, December 2, 2016 at 11:04 a.m.

    I'm sure at least some people here remember the song, "In The Year 2525." There was one line, "everything you think do and say, is in the pill you took today." 

    That aside, the idea of adapting environments based on personal needs is a good one. If it were implemented through a sample panel that opts in, with those results applied across the wider population, it might not need to be so invasive. 

  9. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin replied, December 2, 2016 at 11:11 a.m.

    Very good recall on the song, Jonathan. Like pretty much most new technology, the tech is less likely to be the issue that causes problems but rather the implementation of how it is used. If a sample passenger, as you suggest, is persuaded to take a digital pill (if it existed), the monitoring and appropriate service still would have to be delivered, at right time to right place.

  10. Esther Dyson from EDventure, December 3, 2016 at 3:38 p.m.

    No need for a pill.  Travelers are happy to let airlines know when they are hot, cold, hungry, whatever...  That's not the problem.  The problem is to respond effectively.

    Jeez, innovation is so much more fun than implementation, isn't it?

  11. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin replied, December 3, 2016 at 9:19 p.m.

    Nailed that , Esther (hey, long time!).

  12. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis, December 5, 2016 at 6:31 a.m.

    I'm impressed that the author of this article, Chuck Martin, took the time and care to respond to all comments. Truly rare. Thanks Chuck!

  13. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin replied, December 5, 2016 at 10:05 a.m.

    Thank you, Dyann.

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