Lost in Amsterdam’s Airport? Just Ask Spencer the Robot for Help

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You are struck with jolt of anxiety, bordering on panic — your connection is leaving soon and you are hopelessly lost in Amsterdam’s bustling Schiphol international airport. Starting Monday, it’s Spencer the robot to the rescue, for a weeklong trial run, as announced by

The initiative for this direction-savvy robot came from Dutch airline KLM, after the carrier realized they were losing money because novice fliers were missing flights because they were getting lost, said. So Sweden’s Orebro University, KLM, and researchers from five different nations collaborated to create Spencer, funded by the European Commission.

The helpful robot will roll throughout the airport, giving directions on its information screen. It was given “eyes” and a humanoid shape to make it more approachable, according to

This initial test will span one week, after which adjustments will be made for the official unveiling in March, which will be attended by representatives of the European Commission and “other prominent guests,” said.

But how will Spencer safely weave its way through the airport? Project leader Achim Lilienthal explains the difficulty, which will be ironed out in that first week, to “Navigating an airport is challenging, there is a lot of glass and a constantly changing environment in terms of temporary obstructions, such as parked luggage trolleys and people everywhere…It is surprisingly difficult to fit all the pieces together. A small error somewhere along the line may take an unpredictably long time to discover and work out.”

Addressing these challenges, Spencer relies on airport map programs for fixed objects like walls and measures its distance to temporary obstructions with laser beams, said.

Reacting to human behavior is another important element. As explained, Spencer will have to discern whether to navigate around a group of people or squeeze through, as well as check to make sure the group it is guiding is keeping up.

Robots have been popping up in the travel industry in some interesting ways during 2015. Royal Caribbean International’s Anthem of the Seas features a robot mixologist, Aloft Hotels, a Starwood brand, has been experimenting with robot butlers, and there is a Japanese hotel staffed almost entirely by robots.

No worries for the moment, these miracles of modern technology definitely won’t pass the Turing Test.

Follow @Michael_Isenbek


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