Delhi airport turns to tech to reclaim reputation dented by lax social distancing

The Delhi airport has started testing a 'computer vision' technology to track passengers, reduce waiting time and ensure social distancing at its terminals

Delhi airport turns to tech to reclaim reputation dented by lax social distancing
Security checking at the Delhi Airport. Image courtesy: DIAL

The Covid-19 vaccination drive has already been launched in India and some other countries of the world, but many experts believe that even after immunisation, practices like social distancing are here to stay. Places, where people gather in large numbers, will have to have special arrangements to maintain social distancing in order to completely block the chain of the pandemic. 

Places like airports and railway stations will have to be very carefully managed because people tend to throw caution to the wind while they travel.

The Delhi airport has started testing a 'computer vision' technology to track passengers, reduce waiting time and ensure social distancing at its terminals.

This comes after there were allegations a few months back of gross neglect of social distancing norms at several airports of the country, including the Delhi airport. Images of long queues with passengers nearly sticking to each other as though the threat of the coronavirus did not exist were splashed all over social media.

All major airlines were shown as being lax in this regard, with images of jam-packed shuttle buses and crowded ticket counters put the Indian aviation sector's commitment to following safety protocols in serious doubt. This move now by the Delhi airport could help the Indian aviation industry to reclaim its reputation. 

Also read: What Covid-19? In India's aviation sector, social distancing suddenly loses all value

However, while one of the most fundamental aspects of fighting Covid-19, that is social distancing, was shown to be ignored at the airports in Delhi and some other cities of India, ironically, the Delhi government introduced hard quarantine rules, requiring passengers coming in from the UK, where a new strain of the coronavirus was detected, to be put under institutional quarantine even if they tested negative on arrival. 

This created a lot of ruckus at the Delhi airport earlier this month when the passengers of an Air India flight from London were caught unawares, with the rule being made effective when the plane was in the air. The Centre had imposed such strict rules as a condition for resuming flights between India and the UK, which were temporarily suspended in December 2020 in view of the mutant and more infectious strain of the coronavirus.

Passengers complained of utter apathy and harassment at the Delhi airport. Passengers not carrying the virus being herded for institutional quarantine at an airport, where there were glaring images of social distancing norms being flouted not too long ago, was seen as an instance of hypocrisy.     

However, the Delhi airport seems to be making amends. The technology adopted by the Delhi airport uses images to analyse and understand passenger density at the airport. It has already been installed at the GMR group-led Hyderabad airport.

The Delhi airport, which is also led by a GMR group-headed consortium, installed the 'Xovis' passenger tracking system (PTS) at Terminal 3 last month. It uses sensors to check passenger density.

"We are also evaluating some other technologies. As you might be aware that the Terminal 1 is getting revamped, so while this (Xovis) system is a tried and tested one, there is also something called computer vision technology (that) Hyderabad airport has tried. We are also evaluating that for future uses," Videh Kumar Jaipuriar, CEO of Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), said.

Also read: UK flyers to Delhi face shocking apathy, caught unawares by hard quarantine rules

The Xovis system calculates passenger density and if it goes beyond a particular level, it sends a signal to the Delhi airport operator's team, Jaipuriar said.

The PTS receives data streams from the sensors and provides the airport operator with valuable key performance indicators (KPIs) such as waiting times, process times and passenger throughput.

"We have to work with the CISF (Central Industrial Security Force) and the Bureau of Immigration (BoI) to make sure that the passengers' waiting time keeps coming down. All the stakeholders have responded very positively to this particular technology," he added.