Future Forward: Automation, AI and Robotics in a Post-COVID World


Avatar robot

Leaders from Singapore Airlines, Japan Airlines and Hong Kong Airport Authority share that to optimize operations post COVID-19, we need to think digitally — now. This article originally appeared in Expo Daily Experience. Read the full issues and register for FTE APEX Virtual Expo — the platform will remain open as a resource until January 8.

It might sound like science fiction, but travelers on Japan Airlines are already experiencing elements of a post-COVID world. Pre-flight smart airport guides, avatar robots aiding passengers in terminals and holographic receptionists in lounges, are some of the solutions that the airline has brought forward from the future.

“COVID-19 has certainly played a role in accelerating the digital transformation,” says Tomohiro Nishihata, managing executive officer, Innovation, Japan Airlines. “We, and I’m sure at many other airlines, too, have been working to make touchpoints even more touchless and reduce human contact.”

This focus on passenger and employee safety has trickled down to the airline’s operations as well, where there is an increasing fusion between the digital and physical worlds, Nishihata adds. For example, the airline is developing virtual training solutions for cabin crew and aircraft maintenance.

“In the future, training will no longer need to be confined to a physical location or constrained by a time schedule,” he says. One critical post-COVID technology that the industry needs to adopt posthaste is a digital health pass, opines Chris Au Young, general manager, Smart Airport for Hong Kong Airport Authority. “How are we going to digitalize the COVID test report? The digital health pass problem brings the governments, airlines, airports and medical labs all together across geographic locations,” he says.

The Human Factor
As the pandemic unfolded, Singapore Airlines’ leadership recognized that its transformation had to go far beyond financial and business operations.

“There is no company transformation if you don’t transform your people. And transforming people is the toughest thing to do on this Earth,” says Jerome Thil, the airline’s vice-president, Digital Innovation.

To empower its employees and encourage them to act as agents of change, the airline created a digital “suggestion box.” Once an idea is selected, the employee becomes its champion and the driving force behind its implementation.

“You’re going to be the owner of the solution. You’re going to go through the journey,” says Thil. “When I want to feel better, I go to this platform and I read what people have posted there.”

Virtual Expo Connection – Event Agenda

“Embracing technology and digital transformation to optimise operations in the post-COVID-19 world (automation, AI, robotics)” is available in the event environment until January 8, 2021.