Many technology trends manifest themselves in some industries far earlier than they do others.  A perfect example is the emergence of robots.  A variety of robots have been common for years in manufacturing but have, until recently, not been viewed as having a tremendous near-term impact in travel.  That has begun to change.

Robots – more specifically, those being referred to as ‘smart robots’ — are beginning to make their presence felt in travel.  A recent example that’s getting a lot of buzz is Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s robot bartenders.  There are two such robots on the newest and most technically advanced RCCL ship, the Quantum of the Seas.  Although capable of performing a valued service traditionally provided only by humans – making a custom-ordered mixed drink and serving it in about 30 seconds – these robots’ greatest initial value is perhaps as in the experience they offer RCCL guests.  Expectations are that the Bionic Bar where these robots are installed will become another favorite ‘destination’ within the ship, with guests taking photos and sharing the experience with friends and family back home.

Another travel-related application of robots is on display with robot bag handlers.  This application of robot technology is typically more behind the scenes than the robot bartenders but certainly no less important.  At Amsterdam’s Schiphol and other airports, for example, robot bag handlers are integrated with systems that determine the size, shape, and orientation of bags as the bags are moved about.  The robots then uses that information to load bags for delivery to planes, all with the degree of care we’d all prefer to see human baggage handlers use.

Robots and proven robot technologies like sensors and image recognition will continue to appear in everything from self-driving vehicles to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones.  In fact, many developments in robotics are happening so rapidly that many companies are likely to skip technologies designed to simply augment human employees’ efforts and, instead, consider solutions that might completely replace them.