Can a friendly humanoid robot help take some of the stress out of air travel? That’s the question being posed by researchers from Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s robotics team this week in a series of experiments at Sydney International Airport.
In a partnership with Air New Zealand, the bank has placed it’s 1.7 metre tall, 100kg, $300,000 ‘CANdroid’ Chip at a number of locations at the airport to assist and amuse passengers.
“The hypothesis we are testing is whether customers will have a more enjoyable travel experience with our social robot Chip at check-in and at the gate lounge. Does Chip enhance the experience through interactive guidance versus signs and screens at check-in? Further, at the gate lounge, can Chip help relax and entertain passengers through transparency and social engagement?” CBA’s robotics innovation manager William Judge told Computerworld.
"The airport is a busy and often overcrowded environment with signs, instructions and messages every which way you look,” said Air New Zealand’s chief digital officer Avi Golan. “Our customers can feel overwhelmed. The experiment is about bringing information to life, through innovative technologies.”
The airport experiment is the latest in a series of outings for Chip, a model REEM from Spain’s PAL Robotics and the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, which CBA took delivery of in late 2016.
In December last year Chip was put to work at Stockland’s Merrylands Shopping Centre in western Sydney, in a partnership between the bank and retail giant, and researchers from UTS and the Australian Technology Network of Universities.
Three experiments were carried out: One in which Chip guided shoppers to a chosen store, another in which Chip was 'hired' by retailers to advertise their products, and a third where Chip attempted to persuade shoppers to try a chocolate sample.
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“We are testing a range of hypotheses around the interaction of humans and robots in socially dynamic spaces,” Judge said. “This experiment will help CBA to build on our existing knowledge of intelligent robots and how best to design their interactions with humans to create positive experiences that enhance people’s lives.”
Speaking from the airport, Professor Mary-Anne Williams, head of UTS’ Innovation and Enterprise Research Laboratory (known as the ‘Magic Lab’) told Computerworld that social robots have huge potential for businesses and society.
"Social robots are a disruptive innovation that will impact every industry that involve offering services to people,” she said. “Social robots change the customer experience game and can increase competitive advantage. Given the expected scale of social robot adoption in business it is critical for Australia's future prosperity to engage and lead this emerging field. Prototyping and experimentation is the most effective way to identify unmet need and new opportunities for industry, business and government.”
Travellers can meet Chip at the airport until the end of the week.
“This experiment is a great example of why we invested in social robotics," added Tiziana Bianco, general manager of the bank’s innovation labs. “Social robots can bring to life information that is not particularly engaging when delivered by a screen. People interact with them in a very social and sometimes emotional way, which means they can enhance experiences in ways that other technologies are unable to.”
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