Air New Zealand trials robot staff

If you flew out of Sydney Airport with Air New Zealand last week, chances are that you met Chip CANdroid – a whiz-bang robotic employee being trialled by the airline.

Chip was loaned to Air New Zealand by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), which was probably timely for Chip, seeing as the bank is in all kinds of hot water right now.

The social humanoid robot was part of a five-day experiment for Air New Zealand as it explores new ways of enhancing customer experience. The airline has already hinted at using this futuristic technology in addition to cabin crew to improve the in-flight experience.

“The airport is a busy and often overcrowded environment with signs, instructions and messages every which way you look,” said Air NZ Chief Digital Officer Avi Golan.

“Our customers can feel overwhelmed. The experiment is about bringing information to life, through innovative technologies.

“This partnership and experiment with CBA and Chip is another way we are pushing the boundaries to ensure we remain at the forefront of technology. This will allow us to further enhance the experience we offer our customers.”

Chip wandered around departure gates chatting with travellers, checking in passengers, giving directions and offering all types of assistance. The robot communicates through a screen in his chest and scans boarding passes with his eyes. Pretty cool, eh?

Typically, Chip spends his time at CBA’s Innovation Labs, interacting with students and exploring new ways that humanoid robots can assist with customer service and other tasks.

“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 do,” said Tiziana Bianco from CBA’s Innovation Labs.

“Chip is one of the most advanced humanoid robots in the world, and is perfect for our work aimed at understanding how humans and robots interact in dynamic social spaces.”

Air New Zealand is not the first airline to use humanoid robots. Earlier this year, Taiwanese airline Eva Air put two interactive robots into operation at Taipei’s Songshan and Taoyuan airports.

Are we seeing the future of the airport experience? How would you feel about being greeted by robots when you next take off?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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