Towards an imminent advancement of robotics in airports

Original article was published on Artificial Intelligence on Medium

Towards an imminent advancement of robotics in airports

Against reluctance and necessity, robots are undergoing a strong exposure in this context of health crisis. Organizations are beginning to demonstrate their major use. This crisis suggests that the use of robots is imminent in some organizations, including tomorrow’s airports.

From mid-March to mid-May 2020, the President of the French Republic has imposed a quarantine, whose purpose is to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. No company, no leader and no government, no one is immune of the Covid-19 epidemic. This measure has been accompanied by social distancing. So it has had a dramatic impact on the economy, health and socially.

In order to manage the crisis, new forms of communication play a major role. The professional world has been turned upside down (short-time working, work from home, etc.). On the personal life side, deliveries of commercial products are still possible, with contact limited to warehouse, deliverer and then consumer.

Working from home, short-time working, online courses, videoconferencing, online sales and more are no longer a mystery to some people now. Internet has shown its major role during this epidemic. Unexpectedly, the virus arrived, therefore it brought a way of acting, inside a company or in our personal life, surprisingly.

Today, borders are still closed, so some questions arise : How will an airport function during the epidemic, which origins are doubtful and the duration is unknown. How can we make a world, at a halt, work again by protecting the population and thus, avoiding the spread of the virus. Are robots the solution to reduce human contact and to protect against the spread of this virus ?

Recently, a call for projects from the French Ministry of the Armed Forces was launched by the Defence Innovation Agency as part of the fight against Covid-19. The purpose of this call is the search for innovative solutions of a technological, organizational, managerial nature or for the adaptation of industrial processes, which could be directly mobilized in order to: protect the population, support the care of patients, test the population, monitor the evolution of the disease at the individual level and the evolution of the pandemic, or help to limit the constraints during the crisis period.

This crisis suggests the imminent arrival of the use of robots within organizations. How did covid-19 lead to the research and need of robots ? Will it have an impact on airports ?

With the crisis, inside the medical sector, some countries have used robots to protect personnel staff. Equipped for the most part with an artificial intelligence system, robots are able to communicate, take the temperature thanks to 5G or even bring meals and medicines.

Virus protection is also associated with cleaning. Since 2018, Roissy-CDG airport has already been using cleaning robots, Facilibot. However, new robots are being introduced.

This year, the company Shark Robotics developed a prototype robot capable of decontaminating surfaces or offices in 3 hours, without exposing the human operator to the risk of Covid-19. The robot can also go up and down stairs. This type of robot is useful in the context of the current health crisis where the virus can remain, up to 3/6 days, on certain surfaces and materials, particularly plastic and steel, according to international studies.

Another company, Siréa, is participating in the development of an air and surface disinfection robot capable of moving autonomously. The aim of this collaborative project is to develop an air and surface disinfection robot capable of moving autonomously, wirelessly, and communicating with the operator. In a concept where it is assumed that the virus remains in the air for several hours, this robot can be used. In this way, surface cleaning jobs can be modified with regard to health safety.

In the commercial field, companies have expressed a willingness to make deliveries by drone.

A company Kiwi has created autonomously driven robots, a robot that uses several modes of transport to deliver goods. These delivery robots are used on American university campuses and require human intervention in the event of malfunctions. In addition, there are times when the robots no longer move 100% autonomously, but must be remotely controlled with slight time delays. Today, a Colombian delivery start-up, Rappi, founded in 2015, is testing these small, autonomous robots, Kiwibot, with containment.

We can imagine the use of these robots in airports to facilitate the transport of duty-free products for exemple.

Concerning airports directly, several tests have been carried out at different airports: a valet robot tested at Paris-CDG Airport in 2017, a baggage handler robot named Leo, capable of scanning the boarding pass, printing the baggage label and taking the baggage to the sorting centre, tested at Geneva airport in 2016, or KLM’s Care-E robot demonstrated in the USA.

In 2019, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) launched Vanderlande’s stand-alone vehicle solution FLEET to help passengers in the screening area to transfer their baggage more smoothly.

Between November and December 2019, at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, Air France and Charlatte Autonom tested the world’s first autonomous vehicle on the tarmac between the baggage racks and the aircraft.

Another company wants to specialize in this type of robot. The company Orok has designed an automated system based on an electric trolley capable of transporting between thirty and forty suitcases.

These robots were created to improve the productivity of airports, but also reduce the transmission of luggage and therefore the risk of viruses.

As a hub, it seems necessary to protect airports. And of course, flights may not be unaffected by this robotization.

In 2016, a pilot robot was created by a company specializing in autonomous drones, a robot named Alias. It is a robotic system capable of piloting any plane. It reads the instruments and manoeuvres the stick, the rudder and the throttle. In addition, it knows all the emergency procedures. This robot is still being tested.

In 2018, Canadian engineer Charles Bombardier imagined the development of an flight attendant robot Atasha. This robot, composed of a screen and motorized arms, would be suspended from a rail on the cabin ceiling. It could help store cabin luggage or assist with cleaning.As for the meal service, an electric and connected trolley will assist it.
As for the meal service, an electric and connected trolley will assist him.

In the same year, an autonomous trolley was also created by Altran. This trolley is capable of serving drinks and meal trays on its own, as well as recovering passenger waste.This trolley has been designed with the aim of freeing up time for the flight crew.

These robots are promising and can come to the forefront more quickly. Many robots have been created with the aim of reducing the cost of flight crew services.

With the pandemic, should we be concerned ?

Robots are being experimented with a lot. Now, these prototype robots are likely to multiply. Digital technologies and artificial intelligence help to improve the flow of passengers by interacting with users, but may also help to reduce a virus which may still be present in future periods.

The crisis brings new rules, habits and will bring new processes for the management of certain professions. Calls for innovation will advance artificial intelligence. It will bring a lot of loss, the organization of work will have to take into account the epidemic episodes in order to improve the resilience of companies.

As airports are impacted, it will inevitably lead to a change. This is a time of research, but the change will be fast, now that we know the risks. This crisis will help the idea of smart airport, so it will be a contribution.