Robotics offer a helping hand

12 February 2018

Robots in airports are hardly a novelty, but users and manufacturers are expanding their horizons

The emergence of Big Data analytics and artificial intelligence are well known trends in the airport sector, but terminal operations are also being revolutionised by robotic technologies.

Multilingual robotic technology for customer assistance is making an impression at airports and numerous trials are ongoing or have been completed. Passenger guidance and wayfinding is a major everyday challenge for an airport operator, particularly in busy international hubs with a high volume of transit traffic, so any robotic solution must prove it can operate safety and provide accurate assistance.Seattle-Tacoma International Airport trialled a robot for pre-screening customer assistance. (Port of Seattle)Seattle-Tacoma International Airport trialled a robot for pre-screening customer assistance. (Port of Seattle)

Trials since 2016 include the BRUce robot at Brussels for customer assistance; Troika at Incheon; EMIEW3 in Tokyo Haneda, which uses environmental sensors to initiate a conversation when a passenger stops nearby; and Spencer at Schiphol, described by one of its developers (Kai Arras of Freiburg University) as “the first socially-aware robot deployed at an airport”.

Robots have also been developed to help move baggage in the terminal: Japan Airlines in April 2017 trialled a robot that takes arrival bags to the domestic terminal exit at Fukuoka Airport, and the LEO robot from SITA helps departing passengers check in their bags at Geneva Airport. In May 2017 SITA also unveiled an autonomous check-in kiosk called KATE, which can move to busy parts of an airport to relieve congestion.

At Seattle-Tacoma, a robot augments the work of Transportation Security Administration staff by displaying and broadcasting information to help passengers move more smoothly through the security checkpoint. As an additional benefit, security personnel are freed up to concentrate on critical tasks.

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