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University students’ in-seat heart rate monitor shortlisted for CCA 2015

In this in-depth look at one of the submissions for the 2015 Crystal Cabin Awards (CCA), Inflight-Online.com talks to Mirthe Monninkhof and Quirine van Walt Meijer, part of a group of students at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in The Netherlands behind the ‘Flightbeat’ concept, a system designed to monitor the well-being of passengers in-flight.
They explain their CCA entry was a result of a project undertaken on their course. “Zodiac Aerospace acted as the client, asking MSc. Industrial Design Engineering students at TU Delft to design an in-flight service for passengers and the cabin crew as a part of an elective course on ‘Service Design’. KLM is an important customer of Zodiac and supported the development process by allowing in-depth interviews with a few of their cabin crewmembers.”
Monninkhof and van Walt Meijer elucidate that Flightbeat would monitor the well-being (physically and mentally) of passengers through heart rate sensors, which are integrated in the chairs: “The technology for heart rate sensors in the aircraft seating works much like a traditional ECG. The advantage is that you do not have to attach the sensors directly to the human body, which is the case with traditional ECGs. The seat sensors are capable of reading the heart's electrical impulses through clothing and are able to use ones natural contact with the seat to maintain a reading.”It’s not a completely original idea, as “Ford is developing this technology for the car industry at its Research Innovation Centre in Aachen and they expect their rollout date will be around 2020”, but Monninkhof and van Walt Meijer have expanded the capabilities to suit airline passengers. In the aircraft, the students suggest the heart rate readings could be shared with the cabin crew’s tablet devices via in-flight Wi-Fi, depending on whether passengers opt to use the sensors or not.What can cabin crew do with a passenger’s heartbeat? This is where the submission gets interesting. The students say, “To understand the emotional state that someone is in, Flightbeat uses software (proven by the Institute of HeartMath) that can translate a heart rhythm pattern into an emotion.” Therefore, if a passenger chooses to share their heartbeat (or emotion) with others on the plane, cabin crew can prioritise soothing anxious passengers over those who seem OK.Finally, taking it one step further, Monninkhof and van Walt Meijer say passengers could also share their heartrate/emotion with people at home using in-flight Wi-Fi services. The students realise that not all passengers would decide to do this, but highlight when it could come in handy. “Do you always tell people when you are not feeling so well? We think that differs per person. When you have an overly concerned mother you might even be able to soothe her nerves by sharing a Flightbeat message that shows her you are doing OK. In case you are feeling sad or anxious, it is your own choice with whom you share this. Maybe not your overly concerned mother but your partner, who could send you a soothing message back.”Although the students remain sceptical as to how open passengers would be to seeing the benefits of a service like Flightbeat (they may think it invades privacy), they conclude, “it will be interesting to look deeper at the possible connections with smart watches in 2020 that could, together with Flightbeat, deliver added value to the experience of a passenger on-board.”

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