Ro­bots to aid tourists, clean floors at SK air­port

Ro­bot es­corts trav­el­ers to their gates

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Ro­bots will start roam­ing South Korea’s largest air­port this sum­mer, help­ing trav­el­ers find their board­ing gates and keep its floors clean as the coun­try pre­pares for its first Win­ter Olympics game. Start­ing this month, Troika, a self-driv­ing ro­bot made by LG Elec­tron­ics, will rove the In­cheon In­ter­na­tional Air­port, telling trav­el­ers how long it takes to get to board­ing gates and es­cort­ing them to their flights. A jumbo clean­ing ro­bot will help clean­ing staff swab the wide ex­panses of floors in the air­port west of Seoul.

Troika, about the size of a young teen, is equipped with a rec­tan­gu­lar dis­play on its front that looks like a gi­ant smart phone screen and can show flight in­for­ma­tion, an air­port map and weather data. Its partly rounded head has a flat touch screen face that dis­plays blink­ing or smil­ing eyes or in­for­ma­tion. The guid­ing bot re­sponds to its name. Trav­el­ers can insert their tick­ets into its scan­ner to get flight in­for­ma­tion, and Troika will then ask if they want to be es­corted to their gates, warn­ing lag­gards to “Please stay closer so I can see you.”Troika’s de­but piqued the in­ter­est of many in the air­port. Heads swiveled and chil­dren ap­proached with cu­rios­ity as the 140-cen­ti­menter ro­bot with its white body and black screens glided through the ter­mi­nal. Robotics is gain­ing ground in South Korea, where many big busi­nesses are au­tomat­ing fac­tory pro­duc­tion lines. South Korean re­searchers have won awards in in­ter­na­tional ro­bot com­pe­ti­tions. In 2015, South Korea’s Team KAIST beat the US and Ja­pan to win the DARPA Robotics Chal­lenge with a hu­manoid that com­pleted tasks with­out los­ing bal­ance.


But South Korea has been slow to in­tro­duce hu­man-like ro­bots or in­ter­ac­tive ro­bots in pub­lic places like ho­tels or stores, un­like its neigh­bor­ing Ja­pan where Softbank’s hu­manoid Pep­per is no stranger. In­cheon In­ter­na­tional Air­port Corp. be­lieves it is the first to in­tro­duce such ser­vice-ori­ented ro­bots in a South Korean pub­lic space. An­other state-owned air­port op­er­a­tor, Korea Air­ports Corp., which op­er­ates 15 in­ter­na­tional air­ports in South Korea but not In­cheon air­port, also has teamed up with lo­cal com­pa­nies to in­tro­duce air­pu­ri­fy­ing ro­bots to mea­sure air qual­ity and clean ter­mi­nals.

In­cheon In­ter­na­tional Air­port Corp. said in a state­ment that it does not ex­pect the ro­bots to re­place hu­man work­ers, but just to help, es­pe­cially with overnight shifts and phys­i­cally de­mand­ing tasks. Fu­ture plans in­clude de­ploy­ing ro­bots to ad­vise trav­el­ers about items that are banned on flights, serve food in air­port lounges and carry cargo. South Korea ex­pects the ro­bots to bur­nish its rep­u­ta­tion as a tech­nol­ogy leader when the coun­try hosts the 2018 Win­ter Olympics in Pyeong Chang. But its maker LG is still work­ing out the kinks.

Troika can rec­og­nize its lo­ca­tion in­side the air­port ter­mi­nal and nav­i­gate around passers-by and ob­sta­cles, said Kim Hy­oun­grock, the chief re­search engi­neer at LG Elec­tron­ics who over­saw the ro­bot’s de­vel­op­ment. It’s meant to be a fast learner: By July, Troika will be speak­ing English, Korean, Chi­nese and Ja­panese, Kim said. How­ever the ro­bot can only per­form a few sim­ple tasks it has been pro­grammed to carry out. Dur­ing a re­cent test run it failed to rec­og­nize some voice com­mands, such as when Amethyst Ma of San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia, asked how she and her kids could catch a bus to the city. Still, such ma­chines could be quite use­ful for over­seas trav­el­ers, Ma said. “It’s be­com­ing com­mon in a lot of pub­lic places so that’s why I came to it right away,” she said. “It’s a source of in­for­ma­tion, es­pe­cially if we don’t speak the lo­cal lan­guage.” —AP

IN­CHEON: In this photo, Troika, a self-driv­ing ro­bot made by LG Elec­tron­ics, moves around for vis­i­tors at the In­cheon In­ter­na­tional Air­port in In­cheon, South Korea. —AP pho­tos

IN­CHEON: In this photo, LG Elec­tron­ics clean­ing ro­bot moves to clean the floor at the In­cheon In­ter­na­tional Air­port in In­cheon, South Korea.

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