Weird dancing robots are here to help you at the San Jose airport

The primary hub for Silicon Valley air travel added three new robot staff members: Norma, Amelia and Piper.

The Mineta San José International Airport added the automated assistants to its customer service team yesterday.

The roving machines, which speak six languages, will be stationed at terminals to assist customers looking for food, directions and help snapping a selfie.

The trio can dance and play music, but they lack the intelligence of, say, Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. They also can’t tell you which gate your flight is departing from, but a representative from the airport said they hope to add that in the future.

All three robot helpers carry huge 32-inch screens that run Windows. They have screens for heads, too, which show animated faces stylized with big eyes like anime characters.

Norma, Amelia and Piper aren’t the first bots to rove American airports. In 2014, the Indianapolis International Airport rolled out a telepresence robot — basically a tablet on a Segway — that broadcast a live person’s face on the screen to answer customer questions.

The three San Jose robots were purchased for $120,000 by the airport’s concessionaires. The hope is that the electronic assistants will coax travelers into the airport’s shops and restaurants.

A South Korean firm, Future Robot, designed and manufactured the androids.

Customer service robots are starting to roll out in airports around the world. A humanoid, Nao, made by SoftBank, is stationed at Narita International Airport in Tokyo to greet travelers. And at the Geneva Airport in Switzerland a robot is on hand to help check luggage. Other airports with mechanical assistants on staff include Edmonton International Airport in Alberta and Schiphol, the main international airport in Amsterdam.

Watch a video of the bag-drop robot in Geneva.


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