For many of us, the words happiness and blanket together inevitably bring to mind images of the "Peanuts" character Linus clutching his favorite comfort object. Perhaps because the comic strip is an American creation, British Airways didn’t make the connection when it created its “Happiness Blanket.”
For the airline, happiness is a blue blanket, too -- but this high-tech sensation is a far cry from Linus's baby blankie.
As British Airways describes on its website, the Happiness Blanket visually reflects a passenger's mood by changing color, in real-time. Sensors in the blanket turn blue when picking up on a positive, relaxed mood and red when the passenger is feeling stressed.
The blanket doesn’t reflect feelings straight from the heart but from “tiny electrical fluctuations in the neurons of the brain” transmitted via Bluetooth from a Myndplay headband worn by the passenger. That data activates fiber optic lights intertwined with the Happiness Blanket's cashmere fibers. A relaxed brain sends signals to the blue lights, and a tense one sends signals to the red lights, as you can see in this video.
I think I’d be feeling a bit more content draped in a cashmere blanket instead of the more dubious fabrics that make up typical airline blankets. That the blankets are made of that fine fiber I learned from a British Airways representative who responded to my questions about the Happiness Blanket. In her email response, she assured me that the blankets are washable -- good to know for sanitary purposes but not really a concern since British Airways isn't using the Happiness Blanket on a regular basis.
Despite the hoopla surrounding the blankets, British Airways never intended them to become a fixture on flights but rather to be used on a limited basis to test how passengers responded to in-flight service improvements, the spokeswoman told me. In fact, only seven volunteers got the Happiness Blanket experience, as they flew on the BA189 Dreamliner from London to New York.
"The creative technologist and the BA team on the flight reviewed how the blankets changed color through different parts of the flight -- e.g. meal time, watching entertainment, sleeping," the spokeswoman said. The blanket responses showed British Airways that passengers responded positively to the amenities it designed for a more pleasant and relaxing trip.
"This is the first time this technology has been used by any airline to help shape how service is delivered on board an aircraft," said Frank van der Post, British Airways' managing director for brands and customer experience, in an official press statement.
In its Happiness Blanket experiment, British Airways confirmed that good in-flight food (which it calls Height Cuisine), enhanced entertainment with individual touchscreens offering 75% more viewing content, and cabins designed for improved passenger sleep help improve a passenger's mood and sense of well-being.
As for myself, I’d find it a bit more difficult to relax while wearing a headband and blanket that broadcasts my state of mind to the world. But I'm certain the volunteers didn't mind. They probably find happiness in sharing, as well as in a warm blanket.
Interesting use of technology by British Airways, while reading I couldn't help but think this is the New Age Mood Ring. What does BA hope to achieve from this tech touch ? I am not sure really. I have never seen anyone on a plane unable to express themselves - whether it be pleasure or displeasure.
But kudos to BA for thinking out side the box and willing to take a chance on something fun which might provide some sort of useful feedback. Heck who doesn't like a blue blanket ?
@Beth I had a similar reaction, which is why I asked the rep about questions of privacy. When I first saw the news about the blanket, I thought it was going to be a feature for all passengers. Really, it's rather more hype about the improvements they made for comfort, etc. They can point to the blue as a sign they've succeeded, though it was only tested on 7 volunteers, from I've seen. I do also wonder -- related to the self-fulfilling prophecy you mentioned -- if the flight attendants were at all more solicotous of the volunteers. It is abundantly obvious whose reactions count for the test when they are wearing headbands and blankets that light up. That could just possibly prejudice the people around them a bit. It's true that their seats, food, entertainment system, etc. would be the same as the passengers around them, but sometimes it really is the human touch that makes a difference.
@tomsg British Airways seemed to rely on the Myndplay headbands to be accurate. The color sensors are not so precisely defined, as they really just register a spectrum of blue to red. Given that the point was really to see that the passengers are feeling relaxed and happy for most of the flights, they may not have felt it necessary to do rigorous testing of the accuracy.
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2014 VA Interactive Roadshow -- DetroitThe 2014 VA Interactive Roadshow will feature SAS® Data Management and SAS® Visual Analytics experts covering topics like prepping data for VA and VA integration with SAS® Office Analytics. This year's events will keep presentations at a minimum and focus on giving attendees hands-on exposure to the latest version of VA.
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