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Robots are becoming more commonplace, not just in industry but in everyday places like airports. In recent years, several have conducted trials with robots which aim to make the airport cleaner and safer, and improve the overall passenger experience; these robots might offer information or act as a guide, provide entertainment, or deliver cleaning or law enforcement services.
There are many examples of robots designed to interact with passengers and provide guidance and information: it can be a challenging problem as there are time pressures and the sheer volume of passengers to consider.
Spencer at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam
Between November 2016 and March 2017, KLM Royal Dutch Airline passengers were greeted by Spencer, a robot designed to scan their boarding passes and direct them to their departure gate. The socially aware robot is unique; he can analyze social situations between people and reason about their possible social relations – if they’re family for example – and learn about and comply with social rules. Not only does he behave in a human-friendly manner, he can adjust his speed to that of the group, avoid obstacles and let passengers know how far it is to the gate.
Airport Guide Robot from LG
This multi-lingual robot responds to passenger queries in English, Korean, Japanese and Chinese. It is connected to the airport’s main server and displays flight schedules and maps via screens and by scanning their tickets, it can provide passengers with boarding times and gate locations. Additionally, it can escort lost or late passengers to their boarding gate, or another location within the airport.
EMIEW3 at Tokyo Haneda Airport, Japan
Controlled by the Cloud, Hitachi’s humanoid robot speaks English and Japanese – and even use a child’s voice – to help guide passengers around the airport; it’s connection to the Cloud means many robots can work together to deliver services. Fitted with environment recognition, EMIEW3 can initiate support autonomously to a passenger in need, rather than wait for interaction.
Pepper, a Robo-waiter at Oakland Airport, California
Developed by US company Softbank Robotics, Pepper is a 4-foot tall humanoid robot employed at HMSHost’s Pyramid Ale Taproom. He’s programmed to advise on food and drink choices as well as direct passengers to airport terminal gates, restrooms and baggage claim via an interactive map on his chest. Similar robots have been deployed at airports in Belgium and Japan, and shops, restaurants, schools, and hospitals in America.
Norma, Amelia, and Piper at Mineta San José International Airport, California
These dancing robots were used to engage, entertain and assist passengers during a trial in October 2016. Designed by South Korean manufacturer Future Robot with programming from Silicon Valley’s 22Miles, they danced, played music and took photographs along with offering directions to dining and shopping destinations in various languages.
Other robots are designed to provide a service, like cleaning, or law enforcement.
Airport Cleaning Robot from LG
This autonomous robot – an over-sized vacuum cleaner – is fitted with cameras, light sensors, and a sensor-laden bumper; it employs LiDAR and SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) technology to navigate a safe route through the airport for cleaning using a map in its database.
Anbot at Shenzhen Airport, China
This 5-foot robot, developed by the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau and Chinese National Defense University is programmed to perform security checks. It’s four high-definition camera feature facial recognition software that can relay pictures to security stations for analysis. When necessary, it can deter suspects with light and sound, and fire TASER electrostatic weapons activated by an officer in the control room.
Valet-parking Robots, Gatwick, England
Gatwick Airport are trialing droid robot, Stan, that can park passenger cars left in a dedicated drop-off zone. The pre-booked droid slides a forklift-style ramp under the chassis and ferries the car to a secure bay using military-grade GPS. Stan scans the size and shape of the vehicleand guides it safely to a destination without the need for keys. The booking is linked to a flight number, so upon the passenger’s return, the car is ready to pick up from the same location.
Other examples include:
- TaxiBot – a semi-robotic tug certified for towing Boeing 737s in Europe; controlled by the pilot inside the plane once docked.
- Schiphol airport are trialing a robot-based system that loads checked bags onto carts for transporting to aircraft.
- Rotterdam The Hague Airport have trailed FLEET, an autonomous vehicle for baggage handling which replaces the need for fixed conveyors and sorting systems.
- Swarm technology – lots of smaller robots – for cleaning floors and windows, or for street or landscaping maintenance.
Robots could play an increasingly important role in aviation – at the moment the main task is assessing how best to incorporate them, but they are certainly an untapped opportunity. Manufacturers and airports are confident in their robots’ abilities, but will passengers interact with them or do they prefer the traditional face-to-face interaction with a human?
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