Stockholm Central is a hub of activity. As Sweden’s largest travel destination, and the busiest railway station in the whole of Scandinavia, it welcomes more than 200,000 visitors every day. More than just a transport node, the area surrounding the station is seen as prime real estate domain, with businesses competing to settle in the vicinity of one of northern Europe’s most popular destinations.
According to government-owned enterprise Jernhusen AB, which runs Stockholm Central as well as 38 other stations across the country, its ultimate goal is to “create an attractive, functional and accessible exchange point with high traveller comfort that leads to increased sustainable travel.”
This summer, a brand new initiative came from passenger train operator SJ, whose trains routinely serve Stockholm Central, in the form of SJ Labs, an interactive app that uses augmented reality (AR) to help passengers navigate to their platform. Passengers simply have to download the app, scan a QR code, input their desired destination and open their smartphone’s camera, which will then show them a number of super-imposed digital pointers guiding them to their destination, along with key additional information along the way.
The AR feature is currently in trial mode, with a possible full rollout this autumn. SJ also hopes it will prove helpful at a critical time this summer, when passenger footfall will increase due to extensive maintenance works on alternative routes.
Director of business development and digital transformation Claes Lindholtz explains why it is SJ’s ambition to become one of Sweden’s most digital companies and why the firm is so keen to take service cues from passengers.
Eva Grey: What is the idea behind SJ Labs?
Claes Lindholtz: SJ Labs is a concept where we try to develop new services for our customers, together with our customers, and we tend to go from idea to launch within eight weeks.
A key part of this is our constant research in finding new, innovative ways to make it easy for our customers to travel by train and involving them in our product development process.
It works really well, our customers love to be invited into the process and being able to contribute, and be part of the design of new services. In SJ Labs, we launched this new AR service as a guiding tool in the train station. But this is just one of many features, we’ve done heaps of these and it’s a really good way to be agile and fast in developing new services.
EG: Why do you think there is a need for this type of navigation at Stockholm Central?
CL: Originally, this feature came from our own initiative, because it is hard to find your way around the Stockholm Central Station, directions aren’t that clear for the customers and it’s hard to find your way from one platform to another if you need to make a change. That, together with the fact that [during] this and the upcoming three summers, there is going to be a huge infrastructure maintenance project in Stockholm, will make it even harder for the customers to find their way.
EG: Do you think AR navigation could be a welcome addition for passengers with accessibility problems?
CL: We haven’t received feedback about that from our customers yet, but it could be possible and that is the general idea behind developing this together with the customer, so they can help us design this in the best possible manner for their needs.
You also need to remember that this is really cutting-edge when it comes to technology, and technology is constantly developing. It’s going to be really interesting to see how far we can push it.
But the feature will only be rolled out permanently if the customers think this is a good service that really helps them, and the test has to decide that and we are in the middle of it. We will know in the fall if this product is being rolled out.
EG: Why did SJ choose to roll out the AR trial to coincide with infrastructure works?
CL: For eight weeks during this summer, they are going to close the connection between Stockholm Central Station and the southern parts of the city. There is a bridge that will have construction work done for eight weeks at the time, over the span of three consecutive years.
So for our customers, it’s going to be a whole new challenge to get from south to north Stockholm, and they will have to have an interchange at Stockholm Central. So our aim was to facilitate that journey when other services are disrupted, at the same time when more passengers than usual will be stopping by Stockholm Central.