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Do You Hate Automated Customer Service? Then I Might Have Some Bad News For You Involving Robots And Airports

The robot revolution is coming to Alberta.

Over at the Edmonton International Airport, the staff are trying out a new breed of robot named Furo. It's a cross between a mobile digital kiosk and a customer service agent.  Furo and its kin are the first of their kind in Canada, and are designed to interact with people and to detect and display emotions. They're going to have to be very good at those last two in order to get past the stigma surrounding automated customer service. 

Be honest with me, folks. How many of you haven't wanted to hurl your phone against the wall when - for the thousandth time - you're confronted with a cold, emotionless computer system; required to press a series of buttons like a trained chimp just to talk to a living, breathing person? Like it or not, these robots are likely to be perceived as distant cousins to those infuriating systems - at least at first.

Furo's creators, Synced Media - along with EIA officials - hope that the robot's capacity for communication will help it overcome the aggravation that's so-often associated with customer service machines. 

"The cool part about the robot is it's mobile so it can actually move to you. We have info booths, which are great. We have wonderful volunteers, who walk around and help folks a lot. But the robot would extend our reach," said EIA spokesperson Heather Hamilton, adding that the robot can also lead customers wherever they need to go. 

Furo is also capable of communicating fluidly in around thirty different languages. 

"Let's say you do ask it a question in Chinese, or you ask it in English, it is going to respond to you," explained Synced Media's Amrit Sagoo. 

Since making their debut last Thurdsay, the robots have been met with a great deal of curiosity, but with an equal degree of consternation. A few airport visitors were actually a bit nervous at the presence of the machines. One customer even said their presence was sort of reminiscent of one of the many works of science fiction "where they take over the world." 

Of course, plenty of people saw the utility of the robots, as well. The fact that they've the capacity to literally guide people where they need to go is a significant boon - particularly given how chaotic an unfamiliar airport can so often be. Robot or no, if these devices catch on, they'll likely help a lot of confused travelers catch their flight - especially since human staff aren't always particularly approachable. 

"An airport can be an intimidating place if you're not a regular traveler, or if you're just coming into a city you haven't been in before," said Hamilton. "So something that has that coolness factor or is more approachable is definitely a selling feature."

Currently, the guide robots are still in their testing phase. There's no guarantee they'll become full-time employees of the Edmonton International, nor is it certain whether or not they'll eventually make an appearance at other airports. EIA officials plan to test the robots during the K-Days fair, at which point they'll decide whether to keep them based on how the public responds. 

Sagoo believes the robots could eventually be used in all manner of different venues including shopping centers, restaurants, hotels, and awards ceremonies. 

Va Global News

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