Meet Bill: The AI-powered bot BA plans to use at Heathrow in 2020

The airline says it will trial the fully autonomous robots to assist passengers with basic tasks

British Airways (BA) will use sophisticated AI-powered robots to help reduce congestion and help customers with queries at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 from next year.

Two bots – dubbed Bill after Lieutenant EH “Bill” Lawford who was the captain on the world’s first routine long-haul passenger flight from London to Paris back 100 years ago - will take part in the trial, which is part a wider, five-year plan to improve customer experience. This is backed by a £6.5 billion investment, which has also seen BA roll out 3D printing, driverless baggage vehicles, and other innovations such as automated check-in desks and more.

By using robotics to assist passengers (Terminal 5 sees some 90,000 passengers travelling each day), airline and airport staff can be freed up to work on other value-added or complex tasks, according to BA.

“We are always looking for new and innovative ways to use automation to help our customers enjoy a faster and smoother journey through the airport and beyond,” said Ricardo Vidal, BA’s head of innovation.

“These smart robots are the latest innovation allowing us to free up our people to deal with immediate issues and offer that one-on-one service we know our customers appreciate. In the future, I envisage a fleet of robots working side-by-side with our people offering a truly seamless travel experience.”

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The robots make use of geo-location tech and a multitude of sensors so they’re aware of their surroundings and, importantly, can move freely and safely when assisting people.

Tech firm BotsAndUS created Bill, programming the robots to speak multiple languages and be able to handle a wide range of questions.

​“We are very excited to partner with British Airways. The trial will pave the way for other new and interesting services we can provide to improve the customer journey as we work together to re-imagine the airport experience,” added Andrei Danescu, BotsAndUs founder.

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