By Jacob Johnson
Christchurch airport is testing how robotics can be used to improve visitor experiences by launching a humanoid robot guide.
Named "Pepper", it's the first of its kind at a New Zealand airport and can give directions, hold conversations and even pose for pictures.
Made by a Japanese company called Softbank Robotics, the Pepper robot is designed to recognise faces and basic human emotions.
It's being trialled in the airport terminal to find out customers' needs, so programmers can improve its communication with the public.
"We will observe how it interacts with our visitors to the airport," says Christchurch Airport chief executive Malcolm Johns.
"Pepper will have a minder paying close attention to what happens when it makes new friends."
He hopes the robot will be able to supplement, rather than replace, the current workforce at the airport.
"As Pepper can do more complex things, we’ll be able to focus our humans much more on things that make a big impact on the travelling public rather than dealing with the little factors like where are the toilets."
The airport is also lending a second Pepper robot to the University of Canterbury’s Human Interface Technology Lab to further explore the robot's capabilities.
Mr Johns believes robotics will play an important role in the airport’s future.
"Pepper is our first step in that direction and what I hope is the first of many robotic innovations people will see here over the next 10 to 20 years."