2D scanners on wireless handhelds prove handy at Memphis airport

It's seen as faster than imaging technology for wheelchair assistance agents

Sometimes, older technology works out for the better.

Delta Global Services (DGS) has successfully deployed 2D barcode scanning wireless handhelds to its wheelchair assistance agents at the Memphis International Airport after determining that barcode scanning is faster than using the more modern optical imaging technology found in other handhelds.

The difference might be just a few seconds when it comes to scanning a barcode on a boarding pass, but that's important to DGS and its customers, said Tom Farmakis, vice president of marketing at business development at DGS. DGS agents assist passengers with special needs for a variety of airlines, including passengers who wait in wheelchairs to exit and board planes or to catch a connecting flight.

"In our business, every second counts," he said. "If you are in our customers' shoes -- expecting somebody to pick you up at the aircraft -- what the customer really wants is the person handling the ticket to get you to the next location. Sometimes the passenger has anxiety, so it's in everybody's best interest to do it expeditiously."

DGS settled on the Intermec CS40, a semi-rugged handheld wireless the size of a smartphone for its agents; it chose the CS40 after comparing it to models from rivals such as Motorola that used cameras to capture images of barcodes and other information. Sometimes imaging devices, which take a picture of a barcode and translate it, needed 10 seconds to read the barcode. That compared to about a second for the Intermec device, Farmakis said.

Overall, he estimated the 40 Intermec devices at the Memphis airport have improved DGS efficiency by 10% to 20% compared to an earlier handheld that worked on a congested, older wireless network. The Intermec devices, first launched in late 2010 , have been in use by DGS since last June, and will be used if DGS expands its wheelchair service into other airports.

The CS40s work over AT&T's 3G network, he said.

Memphis has three terminals and 98 gates, which means that sometimes there are 200 people in wheelchairs at any one time. All of them have to be transported within minutes of arriving at a gate, or fines can be levied by the U.S. Department of Transportation on the airlines. The scanning capability helps DGS document when the passenger was picked up and dropped off and whether a stop was made for a snack or a restroom break.

All the wireless interactions are coordinated through a custom app that DGS built that runs on each CS40. When a plane lands, information on the gate and time are sent automatically to DGS servers, and a dispatcher sends assignments wirelessly to different agents.

Intermec sells the CS40 for $1,395, but provides lower prices for volume purchases. DGS said it paid well below $1,000 per device.

DGS is a subsidiary of Delta Airlines.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com .

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