‘Spencer’ the robot wants to make sure you don’t miss your flight

spencer the airport robot will help you catch your flight
LASS Laboratoire
It’s no fun getting lost at an airport. Whether you’re catching a flight or meeting an arrival, losing your bearings can waste time, cause stress, and even lead to accidents if you’re rushing to get somewhere.

As a backup for information desks and airport personnel, researchers across five European countries have been working on Spencer, a robot designed to put lost visitors back on track.

The EU-funded project, which is backed by Dutch carrier KLM and aiming to “break new ground for cognitive systems in populated environments,” will see Spencer rolled out for real-world testing at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport next week, phys.org reported.

Besides a deadpan facial expression, solid-looking Spencer also sports a display on his torso offering passengers a range of airport information. Input your desired destination and, using mapping technology as well as an array of sensors and lasers, Spencer will happily lead the way.

However, the helpful droid isn’t quite ready, hence next week’s trial. Current issues? Well, while Spencer can comfortably handle permanent obstacles such as pillars and seats, as well as fleeting objects such as people, he’s still having some difficulties with objects that remain in the same location for a brief period of time, such as luggage trolleys.

“People in motion are not that tricky,” explains project researcher Achim Lilienthal of Sweden’s Örebro University. “Objects that are temporarily permanent, so to speak, are the most difficult to work around. We do not know, for instance, how long that luggage trolley will be parked in a particular spot, which makes it harder for the robot to determine its own location. We are working on a general map representation that includes and allows the robot to handle temporarily permanent objects.”

The team is also working to improve Spencer’s behavior to make it more natural. For example, rather than try to barge through a group of people and consequently risk being set upon by a potentially angry mob, it wants Spencer to be able to politely navigate around such obstacles. Checking that the people he’s leading haven’t fallen behind is another important feature the team needs to incorporate, though judging by Spencer’s excruciatingly slow speed in this video of an early prototype, there seems little chance of that happening.

Lilenthal hopes Spencer’s technology will one day be used “in all robots intended to interact with humans. Autonomous trucks for example, would be more widely accepted if they functioned better in their interaction with humans.”

And Spencer won’t be the first robot to assist visitors at an airport. Indianapolis airport last year rolled out a customer service contraption, though we’re sure you’ll agree, its design can be described at best as “basic.”


For Monaris, it’s a photography career launched on an iPhone and Instagram

On Instagram, she's known just as Monaris. But street photographer Paola Franqui has built a following largely with an iPhone and a smile. We sat down with her to talk photography, style, and Instagram, of course.

Apple AR glasses will launch in 2020, says respected industry analyst

Apple AR glasses may be closer to reality than we thought. Here is everything we know so far about the augmented reality system, including the rumored specifications of Apple's Project Mirrorshades.

Apple says Group FaceTime will not be part of initial launch of iOS 12

At this year's Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple unveiled its latest operating system, iOS 12. From app updates to group FaceTime, ARKit 2.0, and more, here are all the new features in iOS 12.

‘Red Dead Redemption 2’: Everything we know

The long-awaited (and long-rumored) sequel to Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption is confirmed. Red Dead Redemption 2 will arrive next spring. Here's everything we've heard about the game so far.
Emerging Tech

Be a master of your own ever-changing ‘galaxy’ with this kinetic wall art

Art Machine is a stunning work of kinetic art that looks like a continuously swirling galaxy or turbulent weather formation viewed through a ship's porthole. Check it out in all its glory.
Emerging Tech

Omega Centauri hosts 10 million stars and probably not an ounce of life

Omega Centauri is about 16,000 light years away, making it visible to the naked eye. And it contains some 10 million stars, making it the largest globular cluster in the Milky Way. But it probably doesn't have an ounce of life.
Emerging Tech

The world’s first practical quantum computer has cash and a timeline

The dream of building a practical quantum computer could be closer than ever, thanks to a $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation to seven universities around the United States.
Emerging Tech

Forget flying cars: This shoe-tying robot is proof that the future is here

Engineering students from the University of California, Davis, recently built a robot whose sole personality in life is to tie shoelaces. It cost them under $600 to do it as well!
Emerging Tech

Bizarre stork robot uses a drone to compensate for its weak, twig-like legs

Developed by engineers from Japan’s University of Tokyo, Aerial Biped is a robot whose top half is comprised of a flying quadrotor UAV that's rooted to the ground by thin stork-like legs.
Emerging Tech

A treasure trove of 3D scientific specimens is now free to see online

Thanks to the California Academy of Sciences, you can access more than 700 scientific specimens and artifacts from the world-class collection via the online 3D and virtual reality platform Sketchfab.
Emerging Tech

Lyd is a battery-powered, ‘no-spill’ bottle that is activated by your lips

Lyd is a battery-powered bottle that’s something like a sippy cup for adults. Its no-spill solution is a specialized lid that uses an algorithm to detect when your lips are on the bottle.
Emerging Tech

Cotton and corn! Reebok’s newest sneaker is ‘made from things that grow’

Keen to move away from using oil-based materials to make its footwear, Reebok has turned to cotton and corn for its latest sneaker. No dyes have been used to color the shoes, either, and the packaging is 100 percent recyclable.
Emerging Tech

A new way to ‘freeze’ water could help transform organ preservation

Scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a way of keeping water as a liquid at temperatures far below freezing. Here's why that could help transform organ preservation.
Emerging Tech

Meet the Mantis Q: A drone you can control by yelling, waving, or even smiling

"Mantis, take a picture." Yuneec's new consumer drone, the Yuneec Mantis Q, responds to voice commands along with gestures and smiles. The 4K drone also integrates several different flight modes and safety features inside a one-pound…