Carnegie Mellon University

Photo of PIT shopping area

Collaborating to Build the World’s Smartest Airport since 2013

The partnership between the Pittsburgh International Airport and Carnegie Mellon University began six years ago in 2013 when Alex Hauptmann, a CMU research professor for the School of Computer Science, drove around the parking lot going up and down each row struggling to find a space. This sparked an idea to create an app that used real-time parking information to detect available spaces and then helped cars navigate to those empty spaces.

Since then, nearly a dozen of other projects have spun out of the collaboration between CMU and the airport. Ari Lightman is the CMU faculty member most linked with Pittsburgh International. He's overseen five capstone and research projects focused on everything from wheelchair accessibility to shopping pattern trends when passengers encounter delayed or canceled flights.

Another project in use at the airport is Zensors, a CMU spin-off company that was founded by Chris Harrison in the School of Computer Science. Zensors provides real-time, accurate security checkpoint wait times using cameras.

Carnegie Mellon was one of the first universities in the nation to partner with its home airport. In 2018, CMU and the Allegheny County Airport Authority signed a Memorandum of Understanding allowing faculty and students from CMU's Metro21: Smart Cities Institute to research, develop and deploy several projects throughout the airport that will benefit local travelers and the entire aviation industry.

Since then, Metro21 Executive Director Karen Lightman has fielded dozens of calls from other peer schools and other airports wanting to learn more about the collaboration.

"The airport is a mini city: fire, security, parking, shopping and more," said Karen Lightman, CMU's primary point of contact with the airport when faculty develop new research ideas "It's a great living lab for our faculty and students."

She expects the partnership to expand in the coming years, as Pittsburgh International embarks on a multibillion-dollar project that will introduce a new terminal in 2023.

Next time you visit the Pittsburgh International Airport, you can learn more about Metro21’s work by visiting their display near gate A10!