British Airways blanket

Like many others, I have a difficult time getting a good rest when on a long flight, especially between continents. The airlines invest an enormous amount of time and money trying to figure out how to help passengers be more comfortable (while maximizing revenues). British Airways recently announced a new experiment that uses wearable technology and wireless communications to make it easier to monitor each person’s state of relaxation and rest while in flight. The company has conducted full-length flights with volunteer passengers to gather data on in-flight conditions.

The system relies on a headband that measures brain activity. It then sends this information through a wireless connection to a box attached to a special blanket. Fiber optics distribute colored light from the box to the surface of the blanket, and the changing colors indicate the status of the passenger. Red light indicates tension and alertness, while blue light indicates relaxation and rest.

British Airways is studying the effect of different aspects of the cabin conditions on passenger state of mind, from lighting and entertainment options to the food served and how they are positioned in their seat. You can see a video about the experiment here:

From my perspective, this is a fascinating experiment that is likely to produce some useful data, but I don’t think that the blanket is a practical display mechanism. The biggest problem is that it is too public. If one person is tense or nervous and is surrounded by relaxed, blue-emitting fellow passengers, that is not likely to help that person feel better and could result in behavior that might disrupt neighbors. It seems to me that it would make more sense to have this data provided to flight attendants — possibly through an augmented reality application through a head-mounted display such as Google Glass — that would allow them to scan the passengers and see which individuals might benefit from some extra attention.