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March 20, 2017

LG’s cute airport robots show a lighter, more helpful side of technology

by John_A

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There’s more to these big companies than just phones and computers.

When we think about LG as a company, we understandably tend to focus on its phones, TVs and perhaps components — after all, we’re most excited when something like the LG G6 or a new display is announced. But LG is a massive company that does all sort of things with electronics (and beyond), like the cute and helpful airport robots the it announced at CES 2017.

Immediately after my trip to South Korea in February, LG started trialling these two autonomous, helpful airport robots at Seoul-Incheon International Airport (ICN). One tall model with a screen, aptly named “Airport Guide Robot,” is designed to help passengers find their way around the massive ICN airport terminals. Slightly less exciting from a passenger perspective, but still important, is the “Airport Cleaning Robot” that’s designed to tidy up the floors.

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ICN airport’s main terminal is nearly 6.4 million square feet, and is set to expand further with another passenger terminal and more remote concourses. It currently serves over 55 million passengers per year, and by 2020 will be expanded to handle up to 100 million. At that kind of scale, it makes sense to try and integrate robots to help alongside signage and people. LG is hoping the two robots it has developed will be a good fit.

With over 6 million square feet of space and 60 million yearly passengers, robots are practically required.

The Airport Guide Robot simply rolls around the terminal on its own, offering to help passengers — not unlike a traveler support employee would. With a scan of a boarding pass, it can show a map of where the passenger needs to go to get to their flight, or give directions to other amenities and points of interest like restrooms, restaurants and shops. It can do so in English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese. The robot can even personally escort a lost traveler to any location, as it is completely capable of getting anywhere in the airport a passenger would need to go.

All of those people make a mess, as we know, big international airports aren’t fully closed even late at night — that’s where the Airport Cleaning Robot comes in. It’s basically a gigantic version of the robot vacuums many of us have around our own house: it moves around the terminal, dodging people and objects using sensors and LIDAR as it scrubs the floors. A robot like this a much better solution than people walking (or riding scooters, as is currently the case) with typical dust brooms to keep the terminal in top condition between deep cleanings as millions of people pass through.

LG expects both robots to be fully tuned up and operational at ICN by mid-year, well ahead of the massive number of people who will fly into Seoul for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

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