There are some airlines whose customer service staff could be described as robotic but Air New Zealand has never been one of them — until now.
The carrier has teamed with one of Australia’s big four banks to run a trial at Sydney Airport using a “social humanoid robot” to greet passengers.
Similar trials using robots have been conducted elsewhere, notably at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.
Shenzen Boa’am International Airport in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong has even had a taser-armed “robocop” on duty.
In this case, the robot is a friendlier chap called Chip and his role is to help AirNZ customers check in and at the gate prior to boarding.
Chip can read a boarding pass, for example, and reassure customers they are in the right place.
The experiment with the Commonwealth Bank is one of number of projects the Kiwi carrier is investigating after placing a bigger emphasis on using technology to offer a better experience to customers.
They include, Oscar, an artificial intelligence–backed chatbot has been introduced to assist customers with a more personalised online experience or biometric bag drops which identify customers using facial recognition.
“We are also experimenting with potential enhancements of the future, including the idea of our cabin crew one day using Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality viewers on board our aircraft,” says Air New Zealand chief digital officer Avi Golan.
Commonwealth Bank has been looking at social robotics since 2016 to investigate how robots such as Chip they can be used in a commercial context.
The bank’s general manager of innovation labs, Tziana Bianco, believes the airport trial is good example of why companies would invest in social robotics and how they can bring to life information that can be boring when delivered on a screen.
“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,” Ms Bianco says.
“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.”
There may be less enthusiasm among customer service staff who have been watching in action a competitor for their jobs during the five-day trial, which ends Friday.