This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
20th-century science-fiction authors imagined a future where we cohabited with humanoid robots, and they were right. But they did not imagine one thing: that the first places where humans and humanoids interacted would be airports.
Robots now do things like scan boarding passes and provide duty free shopping advice. For many people, this will be the very first chance to interact in an everyday context with robots designed to mimic human behavior.
Many of us have cleaning robots at home, of course. They are able to roam around, avoiding furniture and any other obstacle — and that’s kind of like one of the robots you’ll find at Seoul Incheon airport, one of the busiest in the world. With 57 million passengers per year and thousands of moving objects at any one time, ICN is a tough debut for the cleaning robot made by South Korea’s LG Electronics, which looks like a curvier version of Star Wars’ famous R2D2 and has been doing its job at the airport for more than a year.
The Airbot has a slightly taller sibling that focuses on providing guidance and advice to passengers. It is able to scan boarding passes and provide answers about things such as flight status and location of boarding gates.
In order to give it a more human appearance, LG engineers have fitted this guide robot with a “face” of sorts, as well as with voice recognition technology capable of handling the top four languages spoken at Incheon airport: Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese.
That is reminiscent of Spencer, the cute, smiling robot that KLM tested at Amsterdam Schiphol airport (AMS) in 2016 to help passengers find their way through this busy hub. One of the stated aims was not just to test a promising technology in a real airport setting, but also to assess how human passengers would react when they had to interact with a robot.
Although that was a one-off experiment, KLM has persevered with its robotic initiatives. In July the Dutch carrier unveiled Care-E, a self-driving trolley capable of moving up to 85 pounds of luggage at 3mph. To make interaction with humans more empathic, Care-E is able to emit non-verbal sounds in response to stimuli and has a set of lights that imitate eye movement. Care-E will be tested at JFK and San Francisco International (SFO) this year, with the specific dates yet to be announced.
Another airport where passengers are able to interact with robots is Delhi International (DEL) in India. This July, Vistara, a private Indian airline, has deployed its own robot at Vistara’s Signature Lodge at Terminal 3. The robot, called RADA, has been developed by Tata Innovation Lab (Vistara is jointly owned by Indian conglomerate Tata and Singapore Airlines.)
RADA has a chassis with four wheels enabling it to rotate 360 degrees, and three built-in cameras that give it awareness of its surroundings. It uses AI technology to address passengers’ queries after scanning their boarding passes, such as departure gates, flight status and weather at destination.
Interestingly it also has an entertainment aspect, as it is able not just to greet passengers as they come into the lounge, but also play games, music and other audiovisual content for them.
When it comes to anthropomorhic looks, though, there’s a clear winner: Josie Pepper, the robot operated by Lufthansa at its Munich (MUC) hub. Developed by French company Softbank Robotics, this 42-inch tall, English-speaking humanoid has been meeting and greeting passengers at key airport spot, the ramp leading to the satellite terminal shuttle. The airport decided to give it a gender — female — and a name that it says is inspired by the airport’s, which is called Franz Josef Strauss after the longtime Bavarian leader.
One of its defining features is that its artificial intelligence technology allows it to work without pre-scripted answers, and it keeps learning with each new interaction.
True, some of these projects may still feel like something of a publicity stunt. But, as happens often when the adoption of new, disruptive technologies accelerates, we’re likely to see a lot more airport robots soon, and we’ll see them do more and more useful things.
Featured image by Chiara Puzzo/picture alliance via Getty Images
The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees