The Future of Air Travel Is Full of Cute, Dog-Sized Robots

car-e-airport robot kim

The technology of modern air travel is evolving at a lightning clip. Boom is promising mainstream supersonic travel capable of transporting passengers between New York City and London in three hours. We can easily keep tabs on our pets via in-flight baby monitors. And the TSA is launching state-of-the-art 3D scanners to digitally “sniff out” all the bombs, flamethrowers, and other contraband in your carry-on luggage. Now, KLM is debuting airport “helper” robots designed to shoulder the burden of air travel for you — literally.

The Dutch national airline has announced a trial program for Care-E, compact, self-driving, trolley-style robots. They’re designed to simplify trips to and through the airport by guiding passengers to their gate and (even better) carrying their luggage for them. After clearing security, passengers first approach a free Care-E which will scan their boarding pass. The robots are connected to real-time airport data so they’ll automatically know which gate to head to, even if that gate has changed. Through a series of non-verbal audio cues, the robots communicate with passengers to let them know what to do next.

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When you’re ready to move, you place your carry-on luggage (up to 85 pounds!) on the robot’s carrying deck. It will then move alongside and slightly ahead of you, walking you to your gate at up to three miles per hour (a typical pace for non-frantic, on-time human travelers). If you’re lucky enough to have some time on your hands, you can even request your Care-E guide you to grab a cocktail, hit up the bathroom, or find a specific shop. It’ll keep tabs on the time for you and alert you when it’s time to board.

KLM has long taken a progressive approach to using technology to streamline the travel experience. Most notably, the brand trialed an android called Spencer at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Building on experience with human-like robots, the company has incorporated a personality into each Care-E robot. If you’re taking too long in transit to your gate, for example, the robot may fall asleep or act bored. It can also whistle or hum while it guides you, and may even act sad when it’s time to see you off.

The Care-E initiative is currently undergoing testing before its mainstream debut. KLM plans to launch the first airport robots in San Francisco (SFO) and New York (JFK) later this year. The brand has hinted that they have no plans for a nationwide domestic roll-out. For now, it’s merely a proof of concept to demonstrate how robots could fit into the future of air travel.

That may be for the best. Do we really want armies of cutesy, dog-sized autonomous robots running rampant in every airport bathroom, newsstand, and Chili’s Too? That’s how Terminator started, and we all remember how that ended.

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