Holiday travel? Robots will make it easier

​If you're flying or taking a train, a robot might soon offer assistance

Over the last year we've noticed that airports and commuter terminals have become real world testing grounds for assistive robots and AI systems.

It makes sense. Environments like airports, while chaotic, are reasonably well-structured. The more defined and unchanging a landscape, the easier it is for an autonomous machine to navigate.

And because travelers typically have just a few predictable objectives in mind--make a flight, find baggage claim, sprint to the bathroom--the range of knowledge an AI system needs in order to be helpful is quite small.

This month, robotics company Aldebaran announced that Pepper, an interactive humanoid developed to work in SoftBank's stores in Asia, will attempt to improve the traveling experience of railway passengers in three stations in France.

Pepper will have a number of tasks, including welcoming guests or greeting people in transit through the station. It will provide pertinent information, from train timetables to info on the station and its surrounding environment.

Using the customer service savvy picked up at SoftBank stores, Pepper will also collect customer satisfaction surveys before and after passengers' journeys and during their stay at the station. And if the passengers get bored, Pepper will entertain them with a short quiz about major tourist attractions near each station.


Before its airport debut, Spencer the robot gets some love in the lab

In late November, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines announced it would deploy a robot named Spencer at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Spencer is the result of more than two years of collaboration between KLM, SME Bluebotics, and various universities, and the project was supported by the European Commission.

The bot is being tested as a means to help passengers sort out missed connections and flight delays. In a statement, KLM VP Michel Pozas writes, "KLM is of the opinion that robotics will have a growing impact on air transport in the coming years. We are testing technology in several areas, to assess if and how robotics would augment our processes."Closer to home, the Indianapolis International Airport is using a Double by Double Robotics

to connect staff from the airport's guest services to passengers in need of assistance. An affordable telepresence bot, Double is essentially a tablet mounted on a steerable base. Guest services can trawl the airport offering guidance without ever leaving the central desk, greatly expanding its reach.More travel savvy bots are on the way. Panasonic is developing a communication robot named HOSPI-Rimo(R)

that's drawing attention as a potential guide at train stations, airports, showrooms, etc. When it debuts, it will be able to autonomously navigate and distinguish individuals with facial recognition.