Growing AR Innovations Within Southwest Airlines

October 19, 2023

Written by guest author Jeffrey Berthiaume, Senior Innovator, Southwest Airlines.

Innovation in an enterprise setting is a challenging endeavor. While the allure of groundbreaking projects is undeniable, the reality of execution often turns these dreams into routine tasks. In large corporations, teams are typically agile and efficient, yet they grapple with gaining traction or attention for their initiatives. At Southwest Airlines, our aim is to infuse an innovative spirit into every facet of our operations, ensuring that every employee feels a part of this transformative journey. 

Our strategy to foster this innovative culture revolves around two primary initiatives:

1. Hackathon

About four years ago, we launched our first internal 24-hour hackathon. This event provided our Technology department with a unique opportunity to delve into fresh, exciting projects. The time-bound nature ensured that the event didn't detract from regular duties, while also offering participants a platform to showcase their talents before our executive team, who graciously stepped in as judges. 

The success of this initiative is evident in its growth. Today, our internal hackathons boast 20 teams, each comprising roughly six developers, dedicating two days to conceptualize and construct a functional proof of concept. These projects are inspired by a range of topics or themes that we propose. 

2. Open Source Initiative

This year marked the commencement of our open-source initiative. Garnering support from diverse departments such as Marketing, Legal, Cybersecurity, and Technology, this initiative has dual objectives: externally, it allows us to collaborate with the global development community; internally, it promotes the adoption of open-source practices. 

Our initiatives have also paved the way for enhanced collaboration with our vendors. Several vendors have not only financially sponsored our internal hackathons but have also provided sandbox accounts for all participants. Their commitment extends to offering training sessions, webinars, and "office hours" during the hackathon, ensuring teams can seek advice or tips. 

Additionally, our in-house Innovation team plays a pivotal role, offering technological support and guidance to teams when faced with challenges. 

To stimulate unconventional AR use cases, we introduced categories like "energy efficiency" and "training", with some tailored specifically to our industry. Projects incorporating IoT or AR elements were incentivized with bonus points. This year, we plan to refine a couple of standout projects and make them available on our open-source GitHub account. Visit our GitHub philosophy here

Southwest Airlines Open-Source Repository 

Harnessing the potential of augmented reality and wearables in any industry is a collective effort, transcending individual brilliance. Initiatives like ours not only foster innovative thinking but also amplify support for teams. The benefits are manifold, from recruitment advantages, heightened internal morale, to team cohesion. As we continue on this path, we believe that the fusion of innovation and collaboration will redefine the future of enterprise solutions. 

Jeffrey Berthiaume is a seasoned innovator with a diverse range of experiences across multiple industries. He currently serves as a Senior Innovator at Southwest Airlines, where he leverages his knowledge and expertise to drive innovation within the organization. Hear him speaking at the upcoming Augmented Enterprise Summit and check out his speaker profile.

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