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Airport robot
A humanoid Furo robot guides Sea-Tac travelers through the intricacies of the security screening process in multiple languages. (Port of Seattle via YouTube)

I, for one, welcome our cute new robot overlords at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport – as long as they don’t boss me around.

Two types of humanoid robots are getting tryouts this week at Sea-Tac: One is SoftBank’s Pepper robot, which is programmed to help travelers find food and drink establishments at the airport. The other is a Furo robot, which provides tips to get through the security lines faster.

Built by South Korea’s FutureRobot venture, Furo has a screen-equipped head that displays a girlish, doe-eyed face. Her arms hold yet another screen that reminds travelers to take off their scarves and belts, empty their pockets, and do all the other things that need to be done before going through a security scanner.

The reminders are spoken and displayed in six languages as travelers pass by.

The Port of Seattle began Furo’s test run today. Officials will track how many times passengers trigger the scanners’ alarms, with and without the robotic reminders, and see whether Furo makes a difference before deciding whether to bring her on full-time.

In a news release, the port says that the robot will make a cameo appearance during Wednesday’s opening session of this year’s Airport Innovation Forum, sponsored by the American Association of Airport Executives at the Renaissance Seattle Hotel.

Pepper, meanwhile, is cruising the concourse to help travelers find food and beverages, courtesy of HMSHost, the company that manages the concessions at Sea-Tac.

Pepper has a cartoonish face that lights up (as well as an image-recognition camera in its forehead). An interactive screen is embedded in its chest, displaying information with the aid of SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper Promoter platform.

Pepper robot at Sea-Tac
Softbank’s 4-foot-high Pepper robot is stationed on an Sea-Tac concourse. (HMSHost Photo)

HMSHost says Pepper’s Sea-Tac stopover is part of a U.S. airport tour aimed at engaging travelers and encouraging them to download Host2Coast, a free airport dining app that goes so far as to let travelers pre-order and pay for meals on their mobile devices.

Both breeds of robots basically serve as interactive kiosks with a humanoid face plus a few extra bells and whistles. Even if Pepper and Furo become permanent fixtures at the airport, they’re not likely to displace human workers.

There may be labor savings: For example, the Port of Seattle says Furo and her ilk could free up security staff members to speed up Sea-Tac’s screening lines, rather than spending precious time reminding travelers to take off their shoes (or leave them on). That fits right in with other high-tech strategies for reducing wait times, such as Clear’s experiments with iris and fingerprint scanning.

It’s a different matter if Pepper starts scolding us for the shampoo bottle we left in our carry-on, or patting us down when we set off the scanner. Then we’re virtually certain to see a robot uprising. But not by the robots. Against them.

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