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Spencer the robot will guide lost passengers through Amsterdam's Schiphol airport next week

LASS Laboratoire

If you find yourself lost at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol next week, keep an eye out for this large, roving, futuristic chess piece with a touchscreen. "Spencer" will be making a one-week trial run starting Monday, November 30th, with the goal of guiding passengers from one gate to another.

Spencer's navigation is a combination of having built-in maps for permanent structures (e.g. walls) and mapping its immediate surroundings with lasers. According to Örebro professor of computer science Achim Lilienthal, the big challenge will be teaching Spencer to handle "temporarily permanent" objects like a parked luggage cart. The trial run will also be a chance to work out how Spencer will "understand human behavior" such as navigating crowds and making sure the group it's supposed to be guiding has kept up.

The project is being funded by the European Commission in collaboration between researchers and businesses in five different countries, including Dutch airline KLM. Data from Spencer's weeklong test run will be used in preparation for a "real test" in March.