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Emirates wants Amazon-like robots sorting out airport baggage

(Bloomberg) -- Emirates, the world’s biggest long-haul carrier, can’t understand why robots -- like the ones used by Amazon.com Inc.’s warehouses -- aren’t handling airport baggage yet.

Outlining what automation, artificial intelligence and big data can do for air travel, the carrier’s President Tim Clark laid out a vision in which robots, with no need for human intervention, would ID bags, put them in prescribed bins and later take them out of the aircraft. His concept also includes cutting back on what is still the most laborious part of flying -- the central security search.

“That’s in today’s technology,” he told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday at the International Air Transport Association’s annual general meeting. “We can actually do this.” The entire process, from arrival at the airport, check-in, immigration through all the way to the boarding gates, would become seamless and uninterrupted, he said.

The technology can be deployed even for security searches, said Clark, 68, adding a passenger passing through the system would keep walking while being inspected by “lots of entities.”

If there’s a problem, “something will come out -- I can’t say whether it’ll be humanoid or whatever -- and stop him.”

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A Dnata crew member carries passengers' luggage as casks of airmail sit on a conveyor belt leading to a freight hatch on an Airbus A380-800 aircraft, operated by Emirates, as it stands at Terminal 3 of Heathrow Airport in London, U.K., on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Photographer: Paul Thomas/Bloomberg

Emirates is already close to producing a walk-though security system that doesn’t require passengers to remove boots and belts and offload mobile phones and keys.

The construction of the new Al Maktoum International Airport south of Dubai, which Clark says was designed with “old think,” has been paused so its architecture can be reworked to accommodate new technologies and the internet of things.

“If it means we delay a couple years, we have to do that,” Clark said. “Those that don’t do it are going to be problem children in the future.”