British Airways to trial autonomous service robots at Heathrow

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In the latest stage of British Airways’ investment in airport automation, the airline has announced that it will trial AI-powered autonomous robots at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5.

British Airways said the trial is being undertaken to help some of the 90,000 customers who travel through the terminal each day navigate through the airport, freeing up the airlines’ airport hosts to help customers with more complex queries.

The robots from tech company BotsAndUs are programmed to interact with passengers in multiple different languages using the latest translation technology to answer thousands of questions, including real-time flight information.

Additionally, using geo-location technology and dozens of advanced sensors to constantly monitor a 360˚radius, the robot will move around the airport terminal freely and safely, escorting customers to specific locations such as the airline’s dedicated Special Assistance and Family Check-In zones.

The robots will be called ‘Bill’ as an ode to Lt E H ‘Bill’ Lawford, captain of the world’s first scheduled international service by British Airways’ predecessor Air Transport and Travel, which flew from Hounslow Heath, Middlesex to Paris on 25 August 1919

To complement its investment in technology and automation, last year British Airways launched a multi-million pound investment in enhanced training for colleagues as part of its First Contact Resolution Programme at Heathrow. The programme encourages customer service agents to use their expertise, initiative and judgment to solve customer queries on the spot using a suite of specialised apps on iPads.

Ricardo Vidal, British Airways’ head of innovation, said: “We are always looking for new and innovative ways to use automation to help our customers enjoy a faster and smoother journey through the airport and beyond.

“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.

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

​Andrei Danescu, founder of BotsAndUs, added: “We are very excited to partner with British Airways. The trial will pave the way for other new and interesting services we can provide to improve the customer journey as we work together to re-imagine the airport experience.”

As part of British Airways’ £6.5bn investment for customers, 2019 saw the carrier install 80 brand-new automated check-in machines and 80 advanced automated bag-drop machines at Heathrow Terminal 5.

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