Airport service robots may be closer than you think

The frustration experienced by passengers passing through security checks at airports around the world may soon be eased by technology.

According to a Travelzoo survey on the future of travel, many people believe customer-facing security checks will soon be in the hands of robots and artificial intelligence.

Asking tourists from the UK about their expectations regarding the security process in future, the survey found 45 per cent of respondents expect technology will replace humans in coming years for many roles. Security remains the primary reason for the change – 35 per cent believe that the use of AI and robots would dramatically improve safety for travellers.

That said, the potential efficiency benefits from reducing the human element of customer service at airports is also a factor. A large number of respondents agree that machines learn processes faster (77 per cent), are able to remember details better (76 per cent) and will likely make fewer mistakes (73 per cent).

The future is here

While the above technology will not be widely seen at airports for some time, research has shown passengers may already be well prepared for further automation throughout their journey. The International Air Transport Association's (IATA) 2015 Global Passenger Survey, conducted in partnership with PwC, showed that nine out of ten travellers prefer to be checked-in and know their seat before leaving home.

Meanwhile, almost 70 per cent of fliers opt for a digital boarding pass on their mobile device over a traditional paper pass. The efficiency of airport  technology is allowing travellers to complete more of the airport experience in their own time with their own devices, further removing the need for actual interaction with airport staff. 

A sign of things to come?

Travellers passing through Mineta San Jose International Airport – the closest hub to Silicon Valley – may be among the first to experience the robotic future of air travel. PC World reported in November 2016 that the airport has rolled out three unique customer service robots – Norma, Amelia, and Piper.

While the functions of the three robots are somewhat limited for now – for example, providing travellers with entertainment or directions to shopping destinations – Richard Towner from developer 22Miles is optimistic about the potential.

"Everything you see here is just built out ready to go, but we can integrate with other systems … In basic terms it's crawling now, but we can have it walking and talking later," he said.

It's perhaps unsurprising that such a programme would first appear in Silicon Valley, however it could serve as an indication of the future of airports across the globe.