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Harriet Baskas, author of stuckattheairport.com, encounters robots, smart beacons – and the future
No need to search for a parking spot at Germany’s Düsseldorf Airport. At one car park, drivers simply pull up, get out and let an automated parking device dubbed ‘Ray’ use its sensors to photograph and measure the car, pick it up and place it in a parking place. When the driver returns from their trip, Ray retrieves the car and readies it for pick-up.
Since September, small robotic devices from robotics company Cyberdyne have been scurrying about Tokyo’s Haneda Airport cleaning floors and carpets and transporting cargo, with artificial intelligence guiding them around the building. In addition, a waist-worn robotic device dubbed HAL has been helping workers with the heavy lifting.
Airports are embracing beacon technology, using Bluetooth to send messages to passengers’ mobile phones as they pass by. San Francisco International Airport uses beacons to guide visually impaired travellers through the airport while, at Heathrow’s Terminals 3 and 5, British Airways employs beacons to deliver personalised welcome messages, share Wi-Fi passwords and let customers know when their gate is open and their flight is ready to board.
Heathrow’s self-driving pods arrived way back in 2011, but still amaze and entertain in equal measure. The 21 battery-powered, driverless vehicles transport more than 30,000 travellers a month between T5 and the business car park. Many riders don’t even have cars: they’ve hopped on for a free self-guided tour.
Tech company SITA found that 83 per cent of passengers now carry at least one mobile device, while 15 per cent of travellers pack three (mobile phone, tablet and laptop). Power plugs in terminals help keep those gadgets charged, but at airports in Amsterdam, Calgary, Brussels and Paris (CDG), WeWatt pedal-powered desks enable passengers to charge their devices while getting a bit of exercise.