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An Austin Airport Is Counting Cell Phones to Predict TSA Wait Times

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If you're passing through security at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, do everyone a favor and make sure you have your phone's Wi-Fi or Bluetooth turned on. Sure, it might be a teensy bit of a battery suck—but it will also help tell everyone around you just how long they'll be spending in airport security hell.

Thanks to the airport's new Boingo-powered security-wait warning system, big screens outside each security checkpoint light up with passengers' estimated wait times, which it figures out by counting each individual (Wi-Fi-enabled) cell phone in the immediate area. As IT World explains:

Wi-Fi devices with standard settings turned on constantly send out signals looking for nearby Wi-Fi devices and access points. Access points near the security checkpoints detect those signals and the unique MAC (media access control) addresses associated with them. Using that data, the system determines when that device entered the area of the queue and when it reached the other end of the checkpoint, after the owner finished with security.


And if necessary, it can do the exact same thing using Bluetooth signals. Of course, an airport picking up data about your device could raise some concerns about what else is being picked up in the process. But Boingo CTO Derek Peterson assures that "the airport isn't concerned with who's made it through security, just how long it took them to get through."

What's more, as more and more data gets picked up, the airport will be able to estimate how long the line might be at any given moment in time. And supposedly, with just two months-worth of collected signal data, the wait system will able to predict these estimated times an accuracy rate of roughly 99 percent.


All of which could be wildly helpful, especially when trying to figure out when to leave for the airport, but it is all still predicated on people keeping their Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals switched on. So let's just hope people are willing to sacrifice a little battery life for the greater good. [IT World]

Image: Shutterstock/Arina P Habich