I was there: eyewitness accounts of 5G in action. The robot at Helsinki Airport
Tellu, the 5G enabled robot at Helsinki airport. Photo courtesy Pasi Salminen
Landing in HEL sounds a little unnerving doesn’t it? However, my day wasn’t going too badly. I was in Terminal 2, the non-Schengen area of Helsinki airport, trying to get my bearings and make a rail connection.
I couldn’t help noticing a number of people gathering in one of the foyer areas. Something was causing a commotion - at least by Finnish standards - so I took a moment to investigate. As I drew closer I could see an automaton, perhaps 1.5 meters high and kitted out with “5G” labels, moving around the foyer area.
Onlookers were discussing how the robot was equipped with a 360º camera. I soon discovered that the android is part of a trial driven by Telia and Finavia to explore the possibilities of using 5G in airport operations. This will bring new kinds of experiences to passengers - in fact, part of the trial is to see how passengers as well as airport personnel interact with an autonomous robot performing service tasks.
Interact you say - so does it have a name, I asked, hoping the answer would not be “Robbie”? Yes, I was told, she is called Tellu and she is already making a name for herself on social media as the star of the world’s first 5G enabled airport. Quite an appropriate name I thought - perhaps she can tell you where the rail terminal is!
Today however, Tellu was assisting security staff, using 5G to send video of the terminal back to the security center.
5G will bring enhanced automation to airports
Tellu should be considered part of a wider story. We already use online check-in, mobile boarding passes or self-service check-in machines at the airport. Airport operators can go even further along this path, creating smart airports in much the same way that local municipalities will create smart cities. Robotics and automation are an obvious area for development here. Monitoring, cleaning and the more routine service tasks can all be automated to improve efficiency, freeing up people for tasks only they can do.
Dedicated high-performance wireless networks will be used to streamline airport operations, both inside and outside the terminal, helping provide a better experience for passengers. Some airports have already deployed private or managed LTE networks to kick start connectivity for airport operations. 5G technology will help build this smart airport environment with enhanced mobile broadband, massive device management and ultra-low latency connectivity for critical services.
Aircraft turnaround will benefit from real time updates for air and ground crews, connected airfield vehicles and aircraft data offloads specific to each airline. Security personnel can be equipped with bodycams connected to the dedicated network and outfitted with push-to-video capabilities. Remotely controlled cameras can be fitted to emergency vehicles or service robots, offering enhanced situational awareness.
The smart airport will focus on delivering an enhanced and personalized customer experience, right from smart parking on arrival, through baggage drop off, to navigational aids, security checks, restaurant and shop information, to boarding. For the airport operator, the new wireless network’s traffic segregation and prioritization capabilities will also permit monetization of specific services to passengers, airlines, baggage handling companies and others - I think you get the picture.
What’s in store for visitors to Helsinki Airport?
Back in Terminal 2, I had a chance to chat with Finavia CDO Heikki Koski and Telia Finland 5G Program Leader Janne Koistinen.
“The project has been running for a couple of months, during which time Tellu has become acquainted with passengers and airport personnel. It’s important to see how a mobile robot gets along before starting with full-time service tasks,” Heikki tells me.
Planning for these tasks is well underway and possible jobs for Tellu include customer service and guiding of passengers, as well as different security and monitoring tasks. With her 360º vision and video feed capability, Tellu offers an excellent extra pair of eyes for these tasks . If you think about it, the possibilities for Tellu are ever evolving, as there are a lot of service opportunities in a customer-dense area like the airport.
Tellu’s interaction with staff and passengers. Photo courtesy of Pasi Salminen
For Telia as a 5G service provider, Tellu is an important step in exploring how well 5G technology is suited to the terminal space and for an autonomous robot. “This is a result of keen cooperation and new project models. It’s an exciting exercise, with Finavia as our customer and several partners providing the technology, such as the network and robot,” Janne Koistinen explains.
It appears that Tellu is here to stay and Finavia has big plans for her. The trial has shown no operational or technical problems, and Tellu can manage a full day’s work, and longer, on a single battery charge.
I stood for a little longer watching Tellu go about her rounds and wondered what my next encounter with her will be. “Hi Steve, good to see you again. Going to Espoo? – roads are a little congested right now, but you have a train leaving in 15 mins from this terminal.”
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