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Humanoid Robot to Welcome Christchurch Airport Visitors

Photo Credit: University of Canterbury

Another disruptive technology has been added to the New Zealand’s Christchurch Airport, alongside the Autonomous Smart Shuttle and Virtual Reality training for its fire service.

According to a recent press release, three humanoid robots, called Pepper, have been under wraps at the airport for a few months while staff tests its capabilities.

Humanoid Robot in Christchurch Airport

  • The Airport Chief Executive shared that one of the three will be going into the terminal to learn a whole lot more in public view.
  • He added that they want to understand robots in order to consider what they can and might do to assist the people, particularly the airport visitors.
  • They would also like to see what the people will think and feel about interacting with a robot and what information they would want to get from it.
  • Pepper is the first step in that direction and the first of many robotic innovations people will see in the airport over the next 10 to 20 years.

Pepper Goes to School

  • At the same time, another Pepper will be put through its paces with the University of Canterbury’s (UC) Human Interface Technology Lab NZ (HIT Lab NZ).
  • This is a continuation of the collaboration between the airport and the university.
  • A Pepper is being lent to the HIT Lab so that the students can better understand as well as suggest how it can enhance the journey of the customers.
  • Pepper is a 120 cm tall robot designed to interact with humans. It is capable of doing the following:
  1. Recognise faces and basic human emotions
  2. Respond to requests made on the touch screen on its chest
  3. Hold a conversation. At the moment, topics of conversation are limited, but growing all the time.
  • The Director of Hit Lab NZ is also the University’s project lead for exploring Pepper’s capabilities as well as programming the humanoid robot to interact most effectively with visitors at the airport.
  • The project is an exciting way to bring the University’s deep knowledge and understanding of user engagement with technology to work on such a fun project.

Embracing New Technology

It is great to have such a forward-looking neighbour such as Christchurch Airport, which is willing to embrace new technologies.

Furthermore, the project provides an opportunity to really explore how they can transform public understanding and acceptance of technology such as robots.

Currently, Pepper is living and learning in the Digital Innovation Zone on the first floor of the airport terminal, opposite of South bar, for a few hours each Monday to Friday.

The way it interacts with visitors to the airport will be observed. Pepper will have a minder paying close attention to what happens when it makes new friends.

The robot gets ‘tired’ after a day’s learning, so some visitors will see it re-charging behind glass alongside information to help people understand what is happening.

Pepper is a little shy in public, but the best way for people to start a conversation is to ask for a selfie. Visitors will get a pleasant surprise at the response.

Hopefully, the visitors will share their photos and videos with friends and family all over the world.

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