Last weekend I drove to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to drop off my elderly in-laws for a 24+ hour journey through London, England and beyond. With such a long flight ahead of them, my relatives already expected a grueling trip. Little did we know that SFO’s outdated resources for seniors would make the experience that much more of a struggle.

When we got to the terminal I asked for a wheelchair – simple enough, right? In 2015 SFO supported around 50 million passengers, including nearly 11 million international travelers. You’d think that with so much traffic, and with some of the world’s top technology firms flourishing in its backyard, SFO would have adopted the most sophisticated systems possible to keep its operations running smoothly.

Yet, there I was waiting for a wheelchair for my aged in-laws for well over 35 minutes. The airport staff, who walked around with an iPad taking names on a first-come first-serve basis, was completely clueless as to when the next chair would arrive. Good thing we came early, or my relatives might have even struggled to make their flight on time. Travel is stressful enough without this kind of hassle, especially for elderly passengers with limited mobility.

“Elderly travelers waiting for wheelchairs at San Francisco International Airport”

As we anxiously hung around for a wheelchair my brain started spinning at full speed, thinking up solutions. Working at Xirrus, I live and breathe Wi-Fi every day. To me, the challenge of tracking wheelchairs seemed like a very simple problem to solve. Want to take a guess at my idea for a fix?

Yes, you guessed right – Wi-Fi-powered location services. In the last few years Wi-Fi locationing has emerged as a fairly mature and increasingly popular technology. Often used in combination with innovations like Bluetooth beacons and RFID tags, Wi-Fi tracking systems give full visibility into the location of specific objects within indoor venues. For instance, a Wi-Fi tracking system deployed at SFO could provide the exact location of every wheelchair throughout the entire airport. Certain applications could deliver even more detailed information, like signaling which direction a wheelchair is moving in, and its current distance from the passenger pick-up site.

We’re not talking about a highly sophisticated system that requires hyper-granular accuracy. After all, we’re not trying to track down a can of beans or a box of cereal on the shelves of a grocery store. In fact, a well-designed Wi-Fi system can accurately locate an object the size of a wheelchair within a range of 10 meters.

As industries from retail to healthcare start pivoting to Wi-Fi location services, Xirrus has stayed ahead of the trend with the release of its Xirrus Positioning System (XPS), a free, groundbreaking location solution that integrates with Xirrus Wi-Fi infrastructure. Driven by a high-speed distributed location engine, XPS can track up to 100,000 devices in real time, with the ability to locate any device within a few seconds. With those capacities, locating 40 wheelchairs scattered across an airport would be a breeze!

It’s a shame that a marquee airport in the heart of the world’s technology capital has yet to take advantage of this kind of simple solution, one that would hugely benefit passengers who need special assistance. One can only hope that as Wi-Fi location services continue to take off, SFO and other airports will grow wise to their potential for improving the passenger experience.

Think XPS could work for you? If you’re interested in learning how to implement location services at your organization, download the XPS solution brief today.