[>talktech] EVA Airways and Shenzhen Airlines Hire Robot Receptionists

By Kai-Chin Shih >talkairlines | 12 DEC 2016 | TOKYOJAPAN

Robots are quickly expanding their presence in people’s everyday lives. Earlier this year, >talkairlines reported on Japan Airlines trialing Nao, a customer service-oriented robot, at Tokyo Haneda International Airport. During the trial period, Nao answered passengers’ questions regarding airport facilities, flight status, destination weather, and local information. Now, more airlines are introducing robots to give flyers a fun and fresh ground experience.

SHENZHEN AIRLINES x XIAOBAO in SHENZHEN

Shenzhen Airlines has recently become the first airline in China to have service robots. On 5 December 2016, 16 “Xiaobao” robots started serving at the Shenzhen Airlines lounge at Shenzhen Baoan International Airport. Xiaobao not only answers questions but also guides people to different areas of the lounge. At a word from the passenger, Xiaobao can even dance to music or tell a story.

Xiaobao.jpg

“Xiaobao” at Shenzhen Airlines Lounge

EVA AIRWAYS x PEPPER in TAIPEI

Two days after Shenzhen Airlines introduced Xiaobao, three “Pepper” robots started serving EVA Airways passengers at the check-in counters at Taipei Songshan Airport and VIP Lounge at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. Pepper, a sister robot of Nao, is 121cm in height and weighs 29kg. Currently only able to speak in Chinese, Pepper can greet customers and engage in conversations, such as recommending things to do at the airport and meal options at the lounge. It can also play trivia games, just like Google Home.

EVA Airways plans on expanding Pepper’s language abilities to cover Chinese, Japanese, and English. Starting next year, Pepper will also be able to scan boarding passes and inform flyers of destination weather, gate number, and boarding time.

Pepper EVA.jpg

“Pepper” at EVA Airways Check-In Counters

IS THERE MORE THAT ROBOTS CAN OFFER?

A question we have previously raised in the Japan Airlines Nao article is, what more can robots bring than a wow factor that may wear out sooner than companies expect? In Japan, we have seen Pepper robots being ignored right after greeting customers. During their first Pepper experiences, people are eager to try out the different features. However, as the robots can only help with simple tasks, people gradually lose interests and turn back to human receptionists for more advanced assistance. Simple tasks such as providing introductions and directions are insufficient, even useless, to regular customers and people who prefer the less timely self-services.

It is essential that airlines think outside the box while hacking with API platforms of the new “toys”. If service robots merely provide basic conversational functions, is there a need for airlines to even invest in these machines? While we applaud EVA Airways and Shenzhen Airlines for investing in elevating passenger experiences, we hope to see a groundbreaking approach to robotic services in the near future. Instead of using robots as a marketing tool, airlines need to analyze the true potential that lies in robotic services.

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