Dubai flights: Why some travellers don't use robot check-in assistants

Emirates is continuing to invest in robotic technology across its operations to ensure a high-tech futuristic flying experience to its customers

by

Nasreen Abdulla

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Thu 6 Jun 2024, 10:22 PM

Last updated: Thu 6 Jun 2024, 11:48 PM

Many travellers are wary of using robot check-in assistants even though they make the process easier, according to an industry expert.

Keenan Hamza, Vice President of Technology Futures & Innovation, Emirates Group said that this was discovered during trials of the world’s first-ever robotic check-in system, Sara.


“When we put Sara in the business class terminal, we found out that people avoid it,” he said, speaking at a media interaction on the sidelines of the company’s annual innovation fest, Forsatek. “It is a robot. They don’t know how to approach it, except children who go running to it. This is very important information to us.”

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The group has been using the robotic system — which was first introduced at Forsatek 2023 — to collect information about the behaviour of their customers. “We are using her to collect a lot of information and see how long they are spending with her,” he said. “We spent the last few months on an extended trial about how it is being used. By the end of this year, we will be announcing some exciting partnerships in robotics that will see us go from one Sara to many across the airport.”

Despite these challenges, Emirates is continuing to invest in robotic technology across its operations to ensure a high-tech futuristic flying experience to its customers.

The importance of startups

The startup ecosystem is an extremely important one for the group. Several of the innovations showcased at Forsatek are either already being used by Emirates or in the trial phase in various parts of the company. Their aviation and travel focused incubator Intelak was founded in 2016, while the ambitious Aviation X Lab was initiated in 2017. To date, between them, there are 160 alumni startups. Emirates has either contracted or bought a stake in several of these startups.

Keenan Hamza.
Keenan Hamza.

“For example the home check-in system Dubz came through our programme,” he said. “Now they are a critical part of Emirates and they have grown to other cities as well. Emirates Red, which allows you to pre-order duty free was also an idea that came as our startup. This is exactly what we wanted to achieve with this programme.”

Exciting startups

Keenan said he was excited about this year’s cohort of innovations as well. “There is an audio engineering programme that allows us to target airport announcements to certain locations where travellers can hear them without it overlapping with other announcements,” he said. “We are hoping to be the first airport to implement this. That is really exciting because it creates personalised space for our customers. This will remove the noise and sounds that makes passengers anxious and reduces friction for them.”

Another company that he said would bring huge changes in the industry was BeaconAI. “When pilots are in the cockpit, there are over 70 different inputs,” he said. “There are monitors, air traffic control, paperwork, weather report and so many other things. What this technology does is it tries to integrate everything into a single AI-powered system which then they can interact and engage with. That has the potential to transform air travel.”

According to Keenan, it was important to be agile when developing technological solutions. “Technology degrades 5 percent every month,” he said. “So, if today, someone lists out what they want from a system, within one and a half years, the whole list is out of date. Their requirements would have changed and tech would have moved on. It is really important to keep an open mind and build things in a way that we can accommodate new tech.”

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