Say Hello to the New Era of Airport Robots
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. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. 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
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
- Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.