Millennium Post

Science fiction to reality!

Artificial intelligence becoming effective and robots strutting about is no longer part of science fiction. Indeed, air travellers would be eating 3D-printed meals prepared and served by robots if one restaurant boss gets his way. Hong Kong restaurant group Maxim's wants to open a smart restaurant at the city's international airport to make the facility even more efficient. The proposal, which was floated earlier this year, will "improve travellers' culinary experience," says George Mew, Maxim's director. "Raw materials will be freshly prepared in the smart kitchen by robotic arms and automatic machines." It might not be as strange as it sounds. Robots are staffing airports around the world. At Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea, for example, robots escort late or lost travellers to their departure gates. At New York City's LaGuardia Airport, robots are equipped with cameras and act as "another set of eyes to supplement existing security." At Singapore's Changi Airport robots clean the floors for 10 hours a day. Nearly half of the world's airlines and 32 per cent of its airports are seeking a partner to further investigate robotics and automated vehicles in the next three years. By 2030, robots are expected to have replaced check-in processes, according to a report published this year in the UK. In 2016, Geneva Airport tested a robot called Leo, developed by SITA and robotics company BlueBotics. Passengers checked in by scanning their boarding pass on Leo, then dropping their bag inside the robot's secure area. Leo then delivered it to security personnel. Airport operators are experimenting with robots or intelligent machines to help check-in baggage or assist passengers to find their way through busy airports. Other robots exist simply for pleasure. Two years ago, Glasgow International Airport, in Scotland had a robot that guided passengers and also sang and danced to Christmas tunes. So could robots take over from humans in airports completely? Not really. There is some way to go before robotics become part of the mainstream. Maxim's proposed Hong Kong airport restaurant staffed by robots, for example, would have human talent working backstage to ensure quality control. Some tasks simply require human input. Research has shown that travellers prefer to use automated services rather than human interaction when completing simple steps in the journey, be it check-in, bag drop or boarding. But if there is, say, a problem with the journey or documentation, travellers would prefer to speak to a human. This would allow them to focus on complex, service-oriented tasks — where the personal touch is preferred. There was a time, not too long ago, when science fiction fans would carry Bradbury, Asimov or Clarke paperbacks with them. Now the world visualised by these amazing authors is all but here.

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