The airport of the future is here – and it doesn’t need humans

Published September 17, 2018, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

Imagine landing at a major airport and the only human official you meet on your way through the terminal is a Customs officer.



An Autonomous Container Trailer (ACT) baggage robot on the tarmac at Changi Airport. (Bloomberg file photo)
An Autonomous Container Trailer (ACT) baggage robot on the tarmac at Changi Airport. (Bloomberg file photo)

Singapore’s Changi Airport, voted the world’s best for the past six years by Skytrax, is pursuing that goal of extensive automation with such vigor that it built an entire terminal to help test the airport bots of the future.

Here’s an idea of what Asia’s second-busiest international airport is implementing.

As a plane joins the long line to land, it’s detected, identified and monitored by an array of cameras and technology that bypass the traditional control tower. Once at the gate, a laser-guided aerobridge positions itself to let passengers disembark, while automated vehicles below unload baggage, dodging others that are delivering robot-packed meals or processing cargo. The passengers head to automated immigration turnstiles that face-scan and thumb-print them, then head to collect their luggage, which baggage bots have already delivered to the carousel. Under the gaze of an actual human — the steely-eyed Customs official — they head out to queue for a driverless taxi.

Changi opened its Terminal 4 last October partly with the idea of using its smallest and newest facility to test and develop automation. The goal is to have it all working for its gigantic Terminal 5, a monster building that would be able to handle 50 million passengers a year when it opens at the end of the next decade, making it one of the largest and most automated passenger terminals in the world.

“Airports are getting bigger and bigger and need to process higher and higher volumes of passengers,” said Jeffrey Lowe, managing director at Asian Sky Group in Hong Kong. “Given the need to provide quick and efficient — seamless — service to passengers, automation is the only way to do this on a large scale.”

Singapore has plenty of reasons to embrace airport bots. The city-state has a limited domestic talent pool that is aging and increasingly unwilling to do manual jobs like baggage handling or packing food trays. It also needs to keep improving Changi to stay ahead of competition from neighbors that are upgrading and extending their own airports. (Bloomberg)