IOT: Powering the digital economy

British Airways plans to trial A.I.-powered robots at Heathrow Airport

Key Points
  • The robots will be launched at Heathrow Terminal 5 next year. 
  • As technology develops, it is being used at airports in increasingly interesting ways.
British Airways

British Airways is set to trial artificial intelligence powered robots at Heathrow Terminal 5.

In an announcement Thursday, the airline said the autonomous robots had been programmed to "interact with passengers" in multiple languages and would be able to answer "thousands" of questions, providing passengers with services such as real-time flight information.

The robots are being provided by a technology company called BotsAndUs and the trial will start in 2020. British Airways added that the robots would also have the capacity to escort passengers to locations such as special assistance zones.

"These smart robots are the latest innovation allowing us to free up our people to deal with immediate issues and offer that one-on-one service we know our customers appreciate," Ricardo Vidal, who is head of innovation at British Airways, said in a statement.

"In the future, I envisage a fleet of robots working side-by-side with our people offering a truly seamless travel experience," Vidal added.

As technology develops, it is being used at airports in increasingly interesting ways.

At the end of October, London's Gatwick Airport announced it was trialing a new boarding system which used digital screens and human staff members to tell passengers the order in which they should board.

Other technologies such as biometrics are becoming an increasingly critical component of air travel too. In the U.K., some passengers can now use a biometric passport to get through passport control without having to show documents to a border official.

In Australia, Qantas recently wrapped up a trial of facial recognition technology at Sydney Airport. According to the company, over 4,000 people signed up to use their "face as a boarding pass," with more than 200 flights leaving the airport with passengers who had used the technology.

While there are potential advantages from using technology, it can cause significant disruption when things do not go to plan.

In August, British Airways suffered an IT problem which resulted in the delay and cancelation of flights. In May 2017, another IT failure resulted in 672 flights being canceled.