Most frequent flyers have experienced surly airport staff. But, for people travelling through South Korea’s largest airport, this summer, that could be a thing of the past.
Bosses at Incheon Airport have boosted staff numbers by introducing check-in robots throughout its departures terminal.
Starting this month, Troika, a self-driving robot made by LG Electronics, will help travelers find their boarding gates and keep its floors clean as the country prepares for its first Winter Olympics game.
Weird science: Kim Hyoungrock, the chief research engineer at LG Electronics who oversaw the robot’s development, puts a boarding pass into Troika
Troika, about the size of a young teen, is equipped with a rectangular display on its front that looks like a giant smartphone screen and can show flight information, an airport map and weather data.
It also tells people how long it takes to get to boarding gates and escorts them to their flights.
Featuring a flat, touchscreen ‘face’ that displays blinking or smiling eyes or information, the guiding bot also responds to its name.
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Travelers can insert their tickets into its scanner to get flight information, and Troika will then ask if they want to be escorted to their gates, warning laggards to ‘please stay closer so I can see you.’
The robot’s debut piqued the interest of many in the airport. Heads swiveled and children approached with curiosity as the 140-centimetre (four foot six inch) robot with its white body and black screens glided through the terminal.
Not that this is a completely knew phenomenon for Asia, of course.
Robotics is gaining ground in South Korea, where many big businesses are automating factory production lines.
Family friendly: A family from California test-out the robot’s interactive capabilities
Exciting: Children have been intrigued by it, which is designed to appear non-threatening
South Korean researchers have won awards in international robot competitions. In 2015, South Korea’s Team KAIST beat the U.S. and Japan to win the Darpa Robotics Challenge with a humanoid that completed tasks without losing balance.
But South Korea has been slow to introduce human-like robots or interactive robots in public places like hotels or stores, unlike its neighboring Japan where Softbank’s humanoid Pepper is no stranger.
Incheon International Airport Corp. believes it is the first to introduce such service-oriented robots in a South Korean public space.
Another state-owned airport operator, Korea Airports Corp., which operates 15 international airports in South Korea but not Incheon airport, also has teamed up with local companies to introduce air-purifying robots to measure air quality and clean terminals.
Team leader: Employees of Incheon International Airport follow Troika as it moves around
Incheon International Airport Corporation said in a statement that it does not expect the robots to replace human workers, but just to help, especially with overnight shifts and physically demanding tasks.
Future plans include deploying robots to advise travelers about items that are banned on flights, serve food in airport lounges and carry cargo.
South Korea expects the robots to burnish its reputation as a technology leader when the country hosts the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
But its maker LG is still working out the kinks.
Troika can recognize its location inside the airport terminal and navigate around passers-by and obstacles, said Kim Hyoungrock, the chief research engineer at LG Electronics who oversaw the robot’s development.
It’s meant to be a fast learner: By July, Troika will be speaking English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese, Kim said. However the robot can only perform a few simple tasks it has been programmed to carry out.
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