For the past five years or so, I’ve been taking photos at Gatwick Airport. No, not of planes taking off. Nothing as exciting as that.
Photos of the water refill machines.
I know. Exciting, right? It’s up there with my growing photo collection of crap hand dryers inspired by Dyson’s increasing terrible forays into the field. More on those another day, if you’re really unlucky.
What I’m really interested in with the water machines is the data. The small screen to the top right tells everyone how many disposable water bottles this machine ‘has saved’.
There are two machines I visit most often, and have a rough idea of how fast the ticker goes up. The one that’s been there longest is in the low hundreds of thousands. But as I mainly fly from Gatwick when I go anywhere, it’s been hard to know what *good* looks like.
Then I went to Heathrow this week, and saw this machine; possibly older, given the state of it, but it’s headed up over three million uses, which puts the Gatwick numbers in the shade.
If I was *really* interested enough, I guess I could write to both airports, perhaps, and ask if they track the data properly, and could send me it. It poses interesting questions about what’s behind the screen: does it save the data with a time stamp? Can an engineer download the historical data.
Is it, perhaps, even live – is someone sitting in the water machine company HQ watching all the data creep up?
I doubt it, to be honest, having worked with enough companies to understand what gets prioritised in shipping products and services.
Instead, I think this data is probably just leaked deliberately into public, inferring that good is being done, without really using the data to make sure good is done more regularly, at greater pace.
Imagine instead you* started analysing this data in the background, matching it up to flight patterns, country destinations, water bottle sales points in airports.
*Actually, not you. Some low level, narrow AI type thing that could make suggestions for you. Want to accelerate the rate of water bottle replacement? Here’s the first five things to do at your airport.
AI as a basic, low-level reckon-engine. I could get behind that.