Last year, Sea-Tac airport found a perfect place for a robot to take over a repetitive but necessary task. During a study to figure out ways to speed up the security checkpoint process, one team found that standing in the security lines and encouraging passengers to remove items like belts and laptops early on before they arrived at the checkpoint helped the lines move more quickly. “They were able to measure improvement to the overall security checkpoint process,” says Wilson. “But after a couple of hours our team was pretty exhausted from nonstop talking with passengers.”
The team decided that a robot named Tracy would be the ticket. The robot-controlled sign spoke and provided advice on how to get through security quickly, by removing scarves, belts, and jackets in advance — and “she” did it in six languages and never got tired. Wilson says the experiment yielded a potential gain of 18 percent to 20 percent improvement to the overall security checkpoint process. Plus, he notes, “Tracy was quite a novelty and many passengers, especially children, took selfies with Tracy while waiting in line.”
Tracy was just a pilot project, but she may be back soon. And if you’re walking through the airport today, you may just stumble across robots doing another job most humans find tedious: cleaning floors. One of Sea-Tac’s vendors, C&W Services, recently set a fleet of six self-driving floor-care machines in action at the airport. Brain Corp. provides the artificial intelligence software that manages and deploys the self-driving machine. The cleaning staff doesn’t need to directly operate the machines, so floor cleaning becomes autonomous. This allows the janitors to multitask and complete other work that requires a human touch while the floors get cleaned.