In the airport of the future people will eat computer-generated meals prepared and served by robots, if one food industry executive in Hong Kong gets his way.
Chefs and serving staff will become a thing of the past in this fully automated vision, where humans will interact with machines before they fly.
As George Mew, director of Maxim’s restaurant group, put it: “The smart restaurant concept means you don’t need people.”
The radical new idea is just one of several Hong Kong International Airport bosses are considering as they seek to make the facility more efficient.
“If all goes well, it would probably begin in 2019 on a small scale,” Mew said.
But, airport bosses are not stopping there, showcasing a time with warehouses full of robots where humans used to work.
How this might affect jobs at the airport is not yet known.
These visions of the future were unveiled during a two-day event at Hong Kong Exhibition and Conference Centre in Wan Chai, where nearly 50 hi-tech companies presented innovative ideas to the airport authority.
If all goes according to plan, passengers are likely to see more robots roaming inside the airport delivering food and duty free items to customers at boarding gates, while drones could also be used to get meals to customers more efficiently.
Eventually, Mew wants to use robots and 3D printers to make the food, which would then be delivered customers either via mini-conveyor belts at service windows around the airport, or by robots at boarding gates.
During the two-day event, the airport authority also presented one of its experimental partners, Ubizense, who employed artificial intelligence to monitor the airport and real-time performance of airlines to manage the quick turnaround of aeroplanes.
The AI system was able to track every vehicle and procedure when a plane arrived at a gate, including the movement of baggage and cargo, and fuel – while having the power to spot problems and alert airport operations staff should something go wrong before it became a bigger issue.
As the threat of cyberattacks has increased, Ng Chi-kee, the executive director for airport operations, said authority had “recently decided to pay more attention” to cybersecurity. Especially in the wake of the hacking scandal that saw Cathay Pacific hit by a massive data breach affecting 9.4 million customers.
In the airport’s case, Ng said that prevent a “single point of failure” disrupting operations, it had two layers of backup, hot standby and cold standby, so there was no “single point of failure”.
“It is all about discipline, how we control internally and design layers and layers of firewalls to make life difficult for the hackers to hack the system,” Ng said at the company’s smart airport conference.
Also on display at the conference was a virtual reality mock-up of a skybridge under construction. Part of a HK$7 billion package of improvements, the bridge is expected to open in 2020.
The skybridge will connect two airport passenger buildings, and will be high enough to allow large jets, including the Airbus A380, to pass underneath. The bridge will also include sections of glass walkways and two new drinking establishments either end of the bridge, with views right across the airfield.
The digital display, which was created by Hong Kong company Chain Technology Development, showed how new parts of the airport will look and feel.