Image: screenshot/klm video

We’ve all overpacked before a flight, which means we’ve all had to haul that bulging suitcase through the airport while attempting to find our gate.  

But if KLM Royal Dutch Airways has its way, you’ll be able to give those weary arms a break — all thanks to robotics. Meet Care-E, the airline’s friendly luggage trolley prototype. 

The Care-E is a self-driving trolley packed with autonomous technology and artificial intelligence. The airline will be conducting two-day trials at both JFK and SFO this summer. 

The airline was planning to demo the Care-E at an event in Brooklyn today, but cancelled the event at the last minute (about 12 hours before it was set to take place). While it does increase our skepticism about whether this prototype works, we welcome the chance to see it in action later this summer. 

KLM plans to have these robots stationed after security, and the carts can approach customers to scan their boarding passes. From there, a customer will load their luggage onto it, and Care-E will guide them to their gates. 

It can even stop at duty-free stores along the way or wait while a customer uses the bathroom. 

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Even better, the Care-E will be looped into a proprietary API for flight info and have access to a full GPS database of the airport. That means that if your gate changes, the trolley will know and redirect to that location. 

But this is more than a real-world test of a robotic luggage trolley — it’s also testing non-verbal interactions between machines and humans. Rather than speaking to a customer, it will display a cute facial animation on its 4K LED display. 

But don’t let its cuteness fool you: There’s a boatload of tech in the Care-E. A LiDAR sensor array provides collision and obstacle avoidance, while also mapping the environment in 2D.  And because KLM wanted to make sure the Care-E is a safe trolley, there are a total of 8 Ultrasonic Rangefinder (five on the front and three on the back) for peripheral collision avoidance. 

An RGB-D Camera acts as the boarding pass scanner and handles the body detection and tracking. A majority of this tech is located on the front piece or the rear bumper. The Care-E can support two-pieces of luggage up to 85 pounds.

KLM says it will begin testing the Care-E at San Fransisco International Airport in July and John F. Kennedy International Airport in August. 

There are no plans for a full rollout of the Care-E nationwide. Instead, KLM sees this as a chance to test how this interaction of man and machine goes over, and modify the machine from there. So if you’re eager to see this adorable and smart luggage trolley in action, you’d better hurry up and schedule a trip out of SFO or JFK.

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