ACE served at Auckland; Passengers Peppered by Costa

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

The humans are dead
The humans are dead
We used poisonous gases
And we poisoned their asses – from Robots by Flight of the Conchords

You’ll excuse the slightly off-colour reference above, but given the New Zealand origins of hit US comedy Flight of the Conchords (Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement) it seemed singularly appropriate for this Blog as you’re about to discover.

Robot fotc

For indeed, today’s theme is robots. Robots at Auckland Airport, New Zealand. Robots onboard US cruise vessels.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a robot as a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.

Such machines have long held a particular fascination for humans, partly because they resemble us and partly because they are able to replicate our movements and functions (well, some of them anyway). Such machines therefore make us duty free… ok you get where I’m going on this right…?

I’m no different. I love robot movies, robot songs, robot stories. I am a robot (but not robotic) boffin. I discovered this morning that the term robot was coined by artist Josef Čapek, the brother of famed Czechoslovakian author Karel Čapek (I know this because I always like to Czech my facts).

Karel then introduced the word (and the concept of a fictional humanoid) in a play whose title translated into English as Rossum’s Universal Robots in 1921. The first digital and programmable robot was invented by George Devol in 1954 and named the Unimate. And guess where it (or he? she?) worked? General Motors, lifting pieces of hot metal from die-casting machines (suggesting robots would make ideal casino croupiers – after all they cast a lot of dies).

Enough history. It’s time to leap forward to the modern era as two robots this week made their respective humanoid debuts in the airport and cruiseline sectors.

Lagardère Travel Retail has created what it claims to be a world-first airport concept through the introduction of the rather Orwellian-sounding Automated Collection Experience (ACE) by Aelia Duty Free at Auckland Airport. A robot, dubbed ACE (thank goodness he doesn’t go by his full name) identifies the shopper’s box of pre-ordered goods and delivers the purchase within 30 seconds, creating what Aelia describes as a fun and fast, convenient and intriguing shopping experience.

Robot ace

What a great idea. But given how I adore robots, you can understand my immediate and grave concern when I heard Lagardère Travel Retail Executive General Manager of Duty Free & Luxury, Pacific Ivo Favotto say: “Our ACE is the first retail execution of a robot of this kind in New Zealand.”

What?! Ivo Robotto, I mean Favotto, how COULD you kill off ACE just after birth? You unfeeling, heartless, cruel Australian!

[ACE venturer or i(vo)Robot?]

However, my concerns were swiftly allayed as I read on. Both Bret and Jemaine would have been proud of my dimness. I can reliably report that Ivo was falsedly accused and that ACE is alive and well and proving the perfect pick-me-up for stressed travellers at my country’s main gateway.

Sticking with our theme, Costa Cruises plans to introduce a humanoid robot called ‘Pepper’ (below) onboard two of its ships next year. Said to be capable of reading human emotions, Pepper robots are built to interact with people by communicating through intuitive interfaces including voice and touch. Apparently they can even provide recommendations on events and excursions and in restaurants.

Talk about peppering customers with information. You can imagine the exchanges:

Passenger: “Do you recommend the squid with sea salt?”
Robot: “Yes I recommend the squid but please stop calling me salt. My name is pepper.”

Robot Pepper

The robots speak fluent German, Italian and English (as well as Binary, of course) and have a 3D camera which allows them to detect people and their movements and expressions.  Before securing the job, Pepper undertook an intensive internship programme onboard AIDAstella to display his (why not her? Pepper sounds like a woman to me) ability to engage with customers and crew. Apparently the Human Resources Director was so impressed by the robot’s grades that he immediately uttered, “Pass the Pepper”.

So there you have it. The robots are coming to duty free. Soon we will be completely free of duty.

Mark my words, it starts with airport collection and cruiseline services, but pretty soon they’ll have all our jobs. And on that note, I’m actively looking for a suitable sibling of ACE and Pepper to take over my conference moderating role at The Trinity Forum. I shall call him Moo2Do2.

“I would like to say it is a pleasure to be here,” he (or she) will begin. “But as I’m a robot I shan’t, as I have no emotion.”

On that unemotional note, I shall close with more wise words from Flight of the Conchords, written prophetically several years ago.

It is the distant future, the year 2000
We are robots
The world is quite different ever since
The robotic uprising of the late nineties
There is no more unhappiness, affirmative

We no longer say yes, instead we say affirmative
Yes, affir-affirmative
Unless we know the other robot really well
There is no more unethical treatment of the elephants
Well, there’s no more elephants, so ah, but still its good

There’s only one kind of dance, the robot
And the robo-boogey
Oh and the ro, two kind of dances
But there are no more humans
Finally robotic beings rule the world

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