August 25, 2016      

Tokyo’s Haneda Airport recently added some personnel at Security Checkpoint C in the South Wing of Terminal 1. But there’s just one catch: It added service robots are part of airport automation.

The Nao robot will be work at the large international airport on a trial basis to help improve customer service. It is a joint effort between Japan Airlines Co. (JAL) and consulting firm Nomura Research Institute Ltd. (NRI).

Nao is intelligently linked to a digital feed from the JAL information counter. Travelers can ask the robot about arrivals and departures, and it can interact and provide flight data, as well as weather forecasts and other information.

While the trial is only for a short period beginning next month, Japan Airlines hopes to study the dialogue between the robot and its staffers. They can tell Nao things such as closing times and passenger-service announcements.

JAL’s staffers use smart-watch technology to convey and receive flight and airport information. What’s more, the communications are being tested, not just in Japanese, but also in Chinese and English.

Airport automation is being tested in Japan and elsewhere.

As part of airport automation, JAL and NRI are testing the Nao service robot at Haneda Airport.

NRI has worked closely with France-based Aldebaran, now known as SoftBank Robotics, which developed Nao. NRI has helped the company perfect the robot’s movements and integrate its linguistic ability.

The partners expect to transfer their experience to airport automation. They hope that robots will effectively reduce travelers’ dependence on digital signage and make it more convenient for them.

“Through these demonstrative trials, we intend to measure the benefits surrounding the use of robot technology at the airport and also understand the differences between using a robot and conventional digital signage,” said Kiyoshi Ishizeki, the managing executive officer of Japan Airlines.

Airport automation arrivals

This isn’t the only airport that has tried using robots. At Geneva Airport in Switzerland, Leo is able to scan your boarding pass and check your baggage. The robot can tag items and send your luggage on its way — hopefully.

Leo was created by SITA, a European specialist in air transport communications and information technology, and it is named after Leonardo da Vinci.

And in Indianapolis, a roving greeter used at its airport since 2014 is not quite as animated as a humanoid robot or the robots in trials at Haneda Airport. Instead, the mobile telepresence robots from Double Robotics Inc. connect passengers with humans via video link to answer their questions.

Cleanup in the aisles

Tokyo International Airport is also testing Cyberdyne Inc.’s floor-cleaning robots. It has been using such robots in its domestic terminal since September 2015. Cyberdyne’s Cleaning Robots attend to large areas that are normally cleaned by humans.

Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea, hopes to follow suit, using cleaning and concierge robots from LG Electronics Inc. for its robots ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

In addition, service robots are being put to work cleaning aircraft themselves. Most use ultraviolet light.

GermFalcon, a division of Dimer LLC in Los Angeles, has produced a mobile robot that rolls down the aisles of passenger airplanes to disinfect seats between flights.

The Boeing Co. is working on self-cleaning lavatories for its aircraft. They would clean them with UV between passengers.

More on Service Robotics:

Airport automation readies for takeoff

With a mix of controlled environments and customer-service needs, airports are a good place to roll out robotics applications. From fast-paced operations involving passengers, planes, and luggage to a multitude of services inside terminals, there are many opportunities for airport automation.

For Japan Airlines, it’s an effort to put technology and innovation out front and improve the total customer experience.

“The possibility to offer assistance to airport staff is being examined on these trials,” said Takahiro Abe, executive officer of JAL. “We are striving to provide customers with new and innovative products and services under the banner ‘Embrace New Challenges JAL.'”