Check in with baggage butler Leo and avoid airport queues

Leo the robot – a baggage butler at Geneva airport, which can collect a passenger's luggage outside the airport – is offering an insight into the potential use of robots in the travel industry.

Leo the baggage butler by Sita on trial at Geneva airport. Courtesy Sita
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Sick of queuing to drop your bags even after you’ve checked in online? Leo the robot may provide a solid step towards eliminating airport check-ins altogether.

Leo is a baggage butler from air transport IT provider Sita, on trial at Geneva airport.

As passengers approach the airport terminal, but before they enter the building, they can place up to two suitcases, weighing a combined 32kg (not necessarily enough for luggage-hungry UAE travellers), into Leo’s baggage bay.

The passenger still has to scan their boarding pass, take the printed baggage tags and stick them to their own bags. Then Leo’s luggage compartment closes, the passenger is handed a receipt, told their boarding gate and departure time, and their job is done. Time to shop.

Meanwhile, Leo drives around the outside of the airport – avoiding obstacles such as ­other late human travellers – and ensures the bags are transported directly to the baggage handling area, without ever having to enter the terminal building. For security, its doors can only be reopened by the operator who is unloading and putting the bags on to the correct flight.

The idea is to reduce the congestion and traffic caused by the escalating millions of passengers and their bulky, cumbersome bags at airports like Geneva. Leo allows airport staff to “accommodate a growing number of passengers without compromising the airport experience inside the terminal”, says Massimo Gentile, the airport’s head of IT.

“Leo also proves the case for increased use of robotics to make passengers’ journey a little more comfortable.”

Dave Bakker, Sita’s president for Europe, says: “Leo is a major step towards further automating bag handling in airports and also provides some insight into the potential use of robots across the passenger journey in future.”

Leo is named after Leonardo da Vinci, who built what is now recognised as the first robot.

But will Leo come to the UAE, whose airports and airlines already use many innovative technologies? Sita says that it continues “to engage with airports and airlines interested in conducting further trials of Leo”. Watch this space … outside the terminal, that is.

q&a march of the machines

Suzanne Locke reveals how robots are becoming a key component of the travel and hospitality industries:

What else are robots used for in the travel industry?

Geneva Airport has a reputation for innovation: it trialled a customer service robot three years ago. Meanwhile, KLM started using the Spencer robot at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport late last year; it can guide passengers to their departure gate and even recognise emotions. Paris has also been trying out biometric robots, this time as immigration officers that scan passports and record images of the passenger’s face and iris. Hotels in Nagasaki, Japan and California’s Silicon Valley are even using robots for lobby check-in, as porters and to deliver room service.

Do travellers care if they’re served by a robot or human?

According to a survey of 6,000 travellers by the travel deal company Travelzoo this year, 80 per cent of us expect robots to play a large part in our lives by 2020, three-quarters believe they will improve our lives and two-thirds are comfortable about them being used by the travel industry. German and French travellers were the most averse to the idea, while 92 per cent of Chinese were very comfortable with it.

Why might robots be better?

At least 24,000 are used worldwide in professional services, at a cost of $3,8 billion, according to the International Federation of Robots. In the Travelzoo survey, 81 per cent said robots would be better at handling data and that their untiring energy would be an advantage.

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