Airports in India are set to benefit from a major digital upgrade in the coming years, with several airports likely to introduce AI assistance robots, robots, AI for baggage and facial recognition.
Recently, GOI launched the Digi Yatra service at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, with the aim of digitally processing transiting passengers. At airports, like Coimbatore International Airport, passengers are also greeted by robots upon arrival and departure.
Although the introduction of new technologies at Indian airports is often seen as an upgrade, one has to wonder if it is really necessary. For example, in order to “enhance the passenger experience”, Coimbatore International Airport has installed two robots at the arrival and departure terminals. The robots are designed to greet travelers and offer directional assistance. However, given the size of ground operations at Coimbatore International Airport – with just one terminal and less than 20 flights taking off per day – these robots are more likely to be a center of attraction for passengers than a provider of enhanced solutions.
Similar types of robots can be seen at Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru. While the administration has deployed a dozen robots, the airport sees more than 700 flights per day. Although robots are effective and engaging when it comes to informing passengers, this does not necessarily add to the information that can already be gleaned from the current information display system at the airport.
In addition, these robots can create a “strange valley” phenomenon in some passengers. Uncanny valley is the term used to describe people’s distaste for some realistic robots. When confronted with such robots in person, some people are likely to experience a strangeness or a sense of discomfort.
While greeting robots may come across as gimmicky, other technologies that airports in India are introducing may not. For example, New Delhi and Bengaluru airports have made the decision to use “Digi Yatra”, a new AI-based technology that has been in development for several years. According to Indira Gandhi International Airport officialsthis technology is expected to allow a passenger’s face to serve as a boarding pass, further digitizing the check-in process.
In addition, facial recognition technology is also expected to be used to automatically process passengers at checkpoints, including entry point checks, security checkpoint entrances, and aircraft boarding. Additionally, it would also simplify the “Self-Bag Drop” by identifying passengers using facial recognition and recalling data. Digi Yatra claims to make paperless travel possible and eliminate the need for repeated identity checks.
“It will help tremendously,” said Suresh Choudhary, Superintendent of Customs, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai, in conversation with AIM on the improved security aspects that airports can get, “Currently we get a list of people with a lookout and have to identify them manually. With facial recognition, it will be easier for us to catch them as soon as they come in in the area. We’re really looking forward to it.
He further explains that it would be easier to identify and detain smugglers and habitual criminals – “for example, we recently discovered that someone was transporting more gold than allowed. Typically, these people are released on bail after paying a fine and a legal obligation.However, the AI has the ability to detect chronic smugglers when they arrive at the airport.
Delhi Police had previously used similar technology – the FRS (Facial Recognition System) – to apprehend and confirm the presence of a number of suspects at the scene of the Jahangirpuri riot. More than 75% of the accused were confirmed thanks to this recognition system.
In 2020, the Airports Authority of India (AII) was considering the implementation of artificial intelligence technology for baggage screening to automate the x-ray procedure at security checkpoints. According to Himanshu Arora of BaggageAI, the government has since carried out several pilot tests at different airports, with the most recent being conducted in February 2022 at Delhi and Bangalore airports.
With a processing speed of up to three frames per second or 180 bags per minute, BaggageAI is considered a very fast alternative to the current system. Waiting times at security checkpoints are likely to be significantly shortened through the use of such automated systems. Not to mention, travelers are also likely to find it more convenient.
Additionally, AI is expected to provide high accuracy and efficiency, which can be used to detect imminent threats to airport and travel security. The number of false alarms would also be less with the use of AI, which would save even more crucial action time.
Additionally, the amazing ability of the AI-enabled systems to be linked with any current X-ray baggage scanning system is another big plus. This could increase the likelihood of upgrading every piece of equipment currently in use and raising security inspection standards at airports across the country.
“Robots are gadgets, AI is not”
The use of humanoid robots, while effective as a marketing tactic for many industries, does not necessarily solve the problems with airport operations today. For example, floor maintenance is a challenge at most airports. However, deploying a concierge bot may not be the most feasible solution; instead, airport officials get a machine that works efficiently with the help of real concierges. In comparison, facial recognition and baggage AI can be considered critical airport technologies for their contribution to upgrading current technologies.
While robots are still just the fun technology to interact with, AI is at the stage where it can help improve the airport travel experience.