Emirates is to introduce legions of multilingual robots to speed up passenger check-in at Dubai airport, cutting queue times and funnelling more travellers through the world's busiest international hub, as the long-haul airline invests heavily in the latest technologies.
The airline will introduce locally developed check-in robots in the next two months after production reaches commercial scale, with plans for more than 200 units over the next two years, Adel Al Redha, Emirates' chief operating officer, told reporters on Thursday.
“We are the first airline globally that has introduced or plans to introduce portable check-in robotics … A robot that can complete all your check-in processes, including issuing a boarding card that will be sent to your registered number or email, and facial recognition by scanning your passport,” he said.
“So, you will go through the passport control and then go through the gate or the lounges without having to show your documentation again.”
The robot's use at the airport, particularly at passenger transfer and transit halls, will be “quite helpful” in cases of disruption or changing of flights, he said.
“We will be improving it and taking it to a higher level where it will be able to link with immigration to establish whether you have the right permission to enter the country, whether you have got the right visa, give you a hotel booking confirmation or book a hotel,” he said.
“We'll be taking it to a step higher than a check-in robot.”
As airlines respond to the new trends in the aviation industry and try to return to pre-pandemic levels of passengers, they have increased investments in airport initiatives, according to the 2022 Air Transport IT Insights released by industry association Sita.
Self-service solutions to help tackle irregular operations remained the top priority in 2022 (92 per cent), the report showed.
Touchless solutions for passengers are high on airline investment agendas, with 88 per cent confirming implementation plans by 2025, up from 73 per cent in the previous year.
Biometric identification management for passengers is a critical investment area, with 75 per cent of airlines planning to enact solutions by 2025.
Emirates' new check-in robot, named Sara, can perform a simple, three-step check-in using a passenger's biometric identification at the airport.
The robot is AI-enabled and, in the future, it will be able to assist passengers with additional services such as airport navigation, booking deals and accepting baggage, the airline said.
Mr Al Redha did not provide the amount that has been invested in the new technology but said it would help the airline cope with increasing passenger numbers using the airport's current capacity.
“Passenger demand is in continuous growth and we will be seeing a minimum of double-digit number growth over the next years,” he said.
The airline is investing heavily in its digital transformation, cutting-edge technologies and biometrics to improve customer experience, boost operational efficiency and support sustainability efforts.
Advances in artificial intelligence and the rise of ChatGPT offer opportunities for the use of these technologies at Emirates for better and faster passenger services, Mr Al Redha said.
The “incomparable computing power” will also lead to a “leap” in many areas such as passenger data analysis, he said.
While the use of advanced technologies in the aviation industry will reduce the number of traditional jobs, it will also give rise to new types of roles and to re-skilling or upskilling some staff, he said.
Dubai's aviation robotics initiative
Emirates' robot Sara was showcased at ForsaTEK, the airline group's annual event to connect two start-up programmes — Intelak and Aviation X Lab — with its tech and industry partners.
The two-day event, starting on March 9, displayed start-ups' technological initiatives and their applications in the travel, tourism and aviation industry.
More than 20 start-ups, who are part of Intelak or Aviation X Lab, demonstrated and pitched their ideas for the next big thing in travel to investors, tech companies and industry players.
ForsaTEK is a combination of “forsa” which means “your opportunities” in Arabic and is a play on the words “technology” and Emirates' airline code EK.
Emirates Group and Dubai Future Foundation signed a partnership during the event on Thursday to launch the Emirates Centre of Excellence for Aviation Robotics.
The initiative aims to expand the use of robotics in the UAE's vital sector of aviation.
Mr Al Redha told reporters that these technologies will be used in Dnata's warehouses and Emirates' engineering unit, where labour-intensive tasks will be increasingly automated.