Delta’s Parallel Reality Display Board

‘Futuristic’ technology at DTW gives passengers a unique airport experience.
Arrows guide guests through a slick portal-esque arch to the boarding pass scanners. When they look up at the display board, their flight information appears. // Photograph by Kathryn Walsh.

Delta Air Lines passengers departing from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport have the chance to experience technology that seems like it was taken from the future.

The technological innovation, called Parallel Reality, is used in a new display board, more than 20 feet wide, that allows passengers to see their personalized flight information — and only their information. Even the person right beside them will, at the same time, see their own completely different flight information — and no one else’s.

“Delta’s innovation team is always looking for new technologies that can enhance the passenger’s experience,” says Greg Forbes, the managing director of airport experience for Delta.

Through Parallel Reality, Delta is capturing futuristic technology — and bringing it to life in the present.

What is it?

Like other airport display boards, this digital screen shows flight information for passengers. However, it is unique in that passengers have to scan their boarding pass or digital ID in order to see anything on the board. Once they do, their flight information (departure time, gate number, directions, and walking distance tothe gate) shows up on the screen, but they are the only one who can see it. The person right next to them, or a  dozen feet away, would see only a blank screen.

How does it work?

This innovative display board employs a technology called Parallel Reality. Albert Ng, CEO of Misapplied Sciences, says regular pixels are only capable of displaying one image at a time, but Parallel Reality pixels, created by Misapplied Sciences, angle differently. Because of this, multiple people can look at the same object and see entirely different things. In the case of Delta’s new display board at DTW, this works for up to 100 people at a time.

OK, but how does it know who’s in front of it?

A common misconception regarding the display is that it uses facial recognition. In actuality, there is a motion sensor that follows the passenger once they scan their boarding pass, tracking their movement in order to angle the right message to the correct person. No biometric data is stored; in other words, Delta isn’t keeping any data associated with your physical appearance.

This is cool and all, but what difference does it make?

The areas near flight information boards in airports can easily get crowded. Even once passengers make it up to the board, they must sift through a sea of information. Seeing your own personalized information not only saves time but also allows you to receive more details specific to your flight and gate. Ng says the board isn’t meant to be just a fancy gadget but instead can solve real problems that all airline passengers are familiar with.

Can’t I just use the Delta app?

Of course! Passengers are still encouraged to use the app, though Forbes says it’s intended more for stationary use. When looking down at the app on their phones, passengers aren’t as aware of their surroundings, which can be dangerous. The information shown on the new display board can be also found in the app but is displayed in a safer way that allows for an easier airport experience.

Why DTW?

According to Forbes, DTW is a great facility and has a central area perfect for implementing this new technology. Since the board is located in a central hub of the airport, outgoing passengers can’t miss it. Throughout the process, Forbes says, the airport has been “fantastic,” seizing this project and moving it forward. He estimates that an average of 1,400-1,500 passengers interact with the display every day.

Is it only for Delta passengers?

Yes, this new display board experience is specific to passengers flying with Delta. At the same time, this encompasses all Delta flyers, not just rewards members. Any passenger on an outgoing Delta flight has the opportunity to engage with the display.

Say I’m still skeptical: Is it optional?

Yes, it is absolutely optional. No passenger has to participate if they are uncomfortable with it or don’t understand it yet. Since no facial recognition scanning takes place, you will not be tracked unless you scan your boarding pass or digital ID. Even then, you are only tracked via a motion detector in order to give you a personalized experience.

This story is from the December 2022 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition