Robot guides could soon be wandering around UK railway stations in a bid to help overcrowding as passenger numbers start to return to normal with the end of the pandemic in sight.
A 5G-enabled robot to be trialled at Birmingham New Street Station will be able to make its own way around the platforms and concourse and interact with people, giving “information and assurance” to those who need it and helping improve passenger confidence.
Although the sci-fi idea is a new one over here, robots have been established for some time in China, offering assistance to the public in banks and law firms as well as transport hubs.
"The idea of robots roaming railway stations and assisting passengers might sound like science fiction, but it could soon be a reality,” said UK digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman.
Although during the coronavirus pandemic rail passenger journeys fell to the lowest levels since at least 1872, train usage has begun to creep up again.
Before the outbreak passenger numbers were rising every year, which is why transport bosses are keen to develop new technology to help manage the crowds.
Graham Richards, director of planning and performance at the Office of Rail and Road, said: "This unprecedented fall in passenger numbers, the lowest annual fall since [records] began, has clearly had an impact on both rail usage and ticketing revenue.
“Despite this, recent estimates published by the Department for Transport show that rail usage has recovered to around 45 per cent of pre-Covid levels by the end of May 2021.”
But the actual long-term impact of the pandemic is yet to be seen, with many people likely to continue the home-working practices and virtual meetings that they embraced during the lockdown.
The New Street robot is one of several cutting-edge tech trials being launched in the region.
Another project will use 5G and video data to look at bus occupancy levels and reduce overcrowding, while another will study how 5G technology can spot damage on tram tracks.
Mr Warman said: "These innovative projects will explore how 5G can make public transport better for both passengers and staff, including by making it easier for disabled people to travel, reducing overcrowding on buses and detecting hazards on the railways."
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