If you’ve ever felt the jolt of panic that comes with realizing that your plane is boarding in a few minutes and you’re still utterly lost in the airport, you’re not alone. But that panic may soon be alleviated at Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport, where lost travelers may be greeted by a helpful robot who can accompany them to their gates.
The robot in the “Spencer” project completed his trial run at Schiphol during the week of November 30, reports Phys.org. A lot of people are banking on his success: The impetus for the project came from Dutch airline KLM, which found that it was losing money because its passengers were routinely getting lost in Schiphol and missing their flights as a result. The project is funded by the European Commission and has included input from researchers and business leaders across five countries.
Much of the team’s time has been devoted to programming the robot so that it’s able to navigate the busy airport environment without bumping into people, luggage carts, walls, suitcases, and the like. Researchers at Örebro University in Sweden believe they’ve met this challenge by programming the robot to map its surroundings and make real-time adjustments to its own trajectory.
With the trial run complete, the team will continue to make adjustments over the next several months in anticipation of the robot’s official premier in March 2016.
Encounters of the Robotic Kind
Spencer will travel throughout the airport on his own, so that travelers who spot him can approach him directly for help. The robot has been given a human-like shape, complete with “eyes” and a “face,” in order to make it more approachable. In order to accommodate international travelers, it’s capable of communicating in several languages.
The robot also boasts an information screen on its “chest,” and travelers may pose their questions and get directions through the screen. But Spencer’s willingness to help doesn’t stop there. He’ll also accompany hopelessly lost travelers through the airport to their gate. The robot has even been given the ability to look around and confirm that the passengers it’s leading are keeping up.
In the future, the robot’s creators anticipate that it will be able to check in with passengers who have missed their flights in order to provide them with up-to-date information regarding when they’ll finally be able to get off the ground. It’s also quite likely that, should this project prove successful, it may inspire the utilization of robots at airports throughout the world.
A Robot Revolution?
Spencer isn’t the first robot to break onto the travel scene.
Royal Caribbean International’s Anthem of the Seas cruise line includes robot bartenders who mix and serve cocktails ordered via tablet (with the occasional dance routine thrown in).
Aloft Hotels (a Starwood brand) has employed robot butlers that interact with hotel guests via touchscreen and are capable of connecting with the concierge, calling elevators, and delivering room service and toiletries. See them for yourself at the Aloft Cupertino in Cupertino, CA.
Robot butlers are also being utilized at the Crowne Plaza San Jose-Silicon Valley. Dubbed “Dash,” each robot is equipped to deliver amenities to guests’ rooms without any human supervision. The goal is to free up human employees’ time so they can spend more energy on face-to-face interactions with guests. Similar robots are expected to arrive in other hotels over the course of the next few years.
In what is perhaps the most robot-happy move to date, the Henn-na Hotel in Nagasaki, Japan is staffed almost exclusively by robots. The robots take the form of everything from dinosaurs, to fantastical creatures, to geometric shapes, to human mannequins. They help guests check in, lead them to their rooms, and should theoretically be equipped to take care of your every need (unless you need to speak to a real person).