SPENCER, KLM's friendly robot guides passengers at Schiphol

 Just not your typical KLM staff. Picture: KLM  © 2016

Just not your typical KLM staff. Picture: KLM © 2016

I hear many talking about how robots and artificial intelligence are taking over the World soon...

Well, at least in one place, this may be getting closer to reality: Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.

In addition to this cute robot that you can see in these pictures moving around Schiphol's terminals, SPENCER is a research programme funded by the European Union and the participation of several universities, companies and research centers.

KLM, the Dutch flag carrier (and, as often noted in this blog, not shy at all when it comes to technological innovation!) is also a partner and has put the robot to good use.

 Looks like out of a cartoon, but it is real and is guiding people through the airport terminal. Picture: Picture: KLM  © 2016

Looks like out of a cartoon, but it is real and is guiding people through the airport terminal. Picture: Picture: KLM © 2016

One of the goals of SPENCER is to learn to interact with humans in a "normal", every day environment. For example, it is important for the researchers that the robot gains the ability to correctly identify people and groups of people and to be able to move among them in a smooth way, for example, not disrupting groups, and learn also to communicate in a "human-friendly" way. The experiment is also interesting in that it provides a real case to test the reaction of humans when they are being taken care of by a robot.

 The airport provides quite a complex environment to move through, therefore there is plenty to learn from the experience. Picture: KLM  © 2016

The airport provides quite a complex environment to move through, therefore there is plenty to learn from the experience. Picture: KLM © 2016

And what best than an airport, with all those people moving around, many of whom need guidance and orientation.

Here is where SPENCER comes in handy, in a number of trials, the robot has been providing advice to transit passengers at Schiphol, by guiding them to their gate through the shortest possible route. 

 Don't know your gate? Just ask SPENCER! Picture: KLM  © 2016

Don't know your gate? Just ask SPENCER! Picture: KLM © 2016

SPENCER's Schiphol deployment has been a test, first with a limited number of project insiders, then, in March, a trial run with real passengers...

How long before robots like SPENCER become ubiquitous?