London: A new stately looking robot with a friendly but unstirring 'face' has been developed to help lost passengers find their way around a busy airport.
The robot will be tested over the course of one week, starting tomorrow, at Amsterdam's Schiphol International Airport, researchers said.
"Navigating an airport is challenging, there is a lot of glass and a constantly changing environment in terms of temporary obstructions, such as parked luggage trolleys and people everywhere," said Achim Lilienthal, professor of computer science and project leader of Orebro University's contribution to the research project.
The "Spencer" project is a collaboration between researchers and businesses in five different countries. After the test run, adjustments will be made in preparation for the real test in March.
The stately looking robot with its friendly but unstirring "face" will be guiding passengers, unaccustomed to navigating international airports, from one gate to another.
Researchers from Orebro have equipped the robot with a prerequisite for navigation - maps. The robot then surveys its surroundings by measuring the distance to various obstructions using laser beams.
One of the more basic maps is one that involves fixed obstructions, such as walls.
"People in motion are not that tricky either. Objects that are temporarily permanent so to speak, are the most difficult to work around," said Lilienthal.
"We are working on a general map representation that includes and allows the robot to handle temporarily permanent objects," Lilienthal said.
Another aspect of the project is the robot's ability to understand human behaviour and act accordingly: Things like navigating around a group of people rather than squeezing through, or looking around to see if the group it is guiding is keeping up.
The robot project was initiated by the Dutch airline KLM as a result of unwanted costs incurred when novice passengers missed their flights simply because they got lost.
Lilienthal can see a range of other hands-on applications at airports, for example looking after passengers who have missed their flights and have a lot of time to kill before their next flight, in which case a robot can be updated with correct information more easily than a human. In addition, it is able to communicate in several languages.
Airports, or museums for that matter, are not the only possible "places of work" for the robot.
"This technology can be used in all robots intended to interact with humans. Autonomous trucks for example, would be more widely accepted if they functioned better in their interaction with humans," Lilienthal added.