The coronavirus pandemic has all but flattened air travel. And now Warren Buffett is saying the airline industry is in trouble. But Airbus is working on a technology that the company says might make air travel safer.
Airbus is partnering with sensing technology startup Koniku to build sensors capable of detecting when coronavirus is circulating on a plane or in an airport. The companies are collaborating on what they call smell sensors that are capable of identifying air particles and determining whether or not they present threats to human life.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Koniku founder Oshiorenoya Agabi said that the technology is "breathing the air, and it's essentially telling you what's in the air." Koniku initially partnered with Airbus to identify and sniff out chemicals and biohazards that could be deployed in a terrorist threat. They now believe the technology could also be used to fight coronavirus.
"What we do is we take biological cells, either Hek cells or astrocytes -- brain cells -- and we genetically modify them to have olfactory receptors," Agabi told Financial Times. "You wake up in the morning, you breathe on our device... and we are analyzing, in a longitudinal fashion, your state of health. That is one of our big visions."
If the plan works, Koniku and Airbus could dramatically change the trajectory of air travel.
Since rhe pandemic, business travel, vacation, and even traveling to see sick family members has nearly ceased. With so few people traveling, there are very real questions about whether the airline industry can stay afloat.
But if this technology can work and the sensors can actually sniff out coronavirus, it might shift people's attitudes on traveling.
The technology could also have a profound impact on businesses in general. With companies now less willing to allow employees to travel, and employees themselves avoiding planes, a trustworthy virus-sensing system could change how companies operate. For some, it might the thing that keeps their own company going.
But alas, there's no telling whether their technology will work. And by the time it becomes a reality, the coronavirus threat may not warrant our current level of concern. If it works (and that's a big if), it may be reassuring to know there's a technology that might protect travelers in the future.