Robots to help BA passengers find their way around Heathrow Terminal 5

Robots are deployed at London’s Heathrow Airport to answer British Airways passengers’ questions and escort them to cafes, toilets and check-in zones

  • The machines will be able to interact with customers in multiple languages 
  • They will escort people around locations in Terminal 5 such as cafes and toilets
  • About 90,000 passengers travel through Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 every day
  • They supplied by London firm BotsAndUs and will use geolocation technology

A pair of robots named ‘Bill’ that can help passengers navigate their way around Heathrow Airport are being deployed by British Airways.

The machines will interact with customers in multiple languages and escort them to locations in Terminal 5 such as cafes, toilets and family check-in zones.

They will be programmed to answer thousands of questions and free up staff to help with more complex queries, according to the airline.

Around 90,000 passengers travel through Terminal 5 at the UK’s busiest airport every day. BA says the two bots should help speed up their journeys.

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The robots will escort passengers to various locations in Terminal 5 (British Airways/PA)

Ricardo Vidal, head of innovation at British Airways, said the carrier is constantly looking at how it can use automation to provide faster and smoother journeys. 

‘These smart robots are the latest innovation, allowing us to free up our people to deal with immediate issues and offer that one-on-one service we know our customers appreciate.

‘In the future, I envisage a fleet of robots working side-by-side with our people offering a truly seamless travel experience.’

The two bots being trialled from February will be named Bill after Lieutenant EH ‘Bill’ Lawford, who captained the world’s first daily international passenger air service.

His flight operated every day from London to Paris and started in 1919.

‘Bill’ and ‘Bill’ are being supplied by west London-based firm BotsAndUs and will use geolocation technology and dozens of sensors to move around Terminal 5 without colliding with passengers or their suitcases.

The bots are part of a series of innovations being developed as part of British Airways’s £6.5 billion investment in improving customer experiences.

Other innovations include the use of artificial intelligence to cut delays in preparing aircraft for departure, driverless baggage vehicles and 3D printing of cabin parts.

Other airports are already making use of robot help including Gatwick Airport which began trialling a valet parking robot in the autumn.

Robots have also been used to provide a variety of functions at overseas airports such as in Munich, Germany; Seoul, South Korea; Shenzen, China; Amsterdam-Schiphol, Netherlands; and Edmonton, Canada.


Name: Project Debater 

Age: Seven 

Hometown: IBM headquarters, Armonk, New York

Qualifications:  Trained on on more than ten billion sentences from a variety of areas, including scientific research and newspaper cuts

Argument:  For subsidising pre-schools 


  • Greeting Harish. I have heard that you hold the world record in debate competitions against humans. 
  • But I suspect you’ve never debated a machine. Welcome to the future.
  • I cannot experience poverty directly and have no complaints concerning my own standards of living, I still have the following to share regarding poverty. 
  • Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam said in 1973 that preschool is the greatest single aid in removing or modifying the inequalities of background, environment, family income or family nationality.
  • I hope I relayed the message that we should subsidise preschools. You will possibly hear my opponent talk today about different priorities and subsidies. He might say that the subsidies are needed, but not for preschools. 
  • I would like to ask you, Mr Natarajan, if you agree in principle, why don’t we examine the evidence and the data and decide accordingly. 
  • Thank you for listening.


  • I sometimes listen to opponents and wonder, what do they want? Would they prefer poor people on their doorsteps begging for money? Would they live well with poor people without heating and running water?
  • Giving opportunities to the less fortunate should be a moral obligation of any human being, and it is a key role for the state. 
  • I think that Harish Natarajan raised the following issue – there are more important things than preschools to spend money on. 
  • The state budget is a big one and there is room in it to subsidise preschools and invest in other fields.
  • Therefore, the idea that there are more important things to spend on is irrelevant.
  • My intention is not to leave a suitcase, full of money for everyone to grab. We are talking about a limited, targeted and helpful mechanism. 
  • to recap this rebuttal speech, I argue that preschool education improves children’s development, that attending preschool helps students succeed and lastly, that preschool can prevent future crime. 
  • Let me wrap up this speech in a way that I hope you can relate to –  advocating welfare is like offering a hand to someone who fell, it’s basic human decency.
  • Therefore, I think the motion should stand. We should subsidise preschools. 
  • That concludes my speech, thanks for listening.    


  • I am convinced that in my speeches I supplied enough data to justify support for preschools.
  • At the end of the day the benefits welfare provides outweigh the disadvantages.
  • Welfare helps the most important segments in society; the underprivileged, the weak, the children. 
  • If we want to have a better society then we must invest in those who are less fortunate. 
  • Finally, in the words of British politician and writer, Benjamin Disraeli: ‘Power has only one duty, to secure the social welfare of the people.’

Name: Harish Natarajan

Age: 31

Hometown: London 


World record for most debate competition victories 

2012 European debating champion 

2016 World debating championships grand finalist 

Argument:  Against subsidising pre-schools 


  • It certainly was a pleasure to listen to project debater. There was a lot of information in that speech and lots of facts and lots of figures.
  • The problem though, is the reality of subsidising preschools is one which does not deal with the underlying problems in society – it is one which often makes those worse.
  •  I think project debaters suggests something very intuitive: that if we believe preschools are good in principle, surely it is worth for giving money to subsidise those.
  • But, I don’t think that is ever enough of a justification. 
  • It cannot be alone a sufficient argument for project debater to claim that there are some benefits [to subsidising pre-schools].
  • There will still be individuals who will be priced out because of the realities of the market
  • Even when you subsidise preschools, it doesn’t mean that all individuals go.
  • This is the fallacy from what we heard from Project Debater.
  • Yes, you can make it slightly more accessible for individuals to attend preschool but that doesn’t mean that those individuals who Project Debater seems to care about will have the ability to send their children to preschool.’
  • These individuals now face not just one exclusion, but a double exclusion.


  • We agree that poverty is terrible. It is terrible when individuals do not have running water. It is terrible when they struggle to meet ends meet. 
  • When they are struggling to feed their family, it is terrible when they cannot get health care to cover their child to even provide them the basics they need in life.
  • That is all terrible and those are all things we need to address. 
  • None of those are addressed just because you are going to subsidise preschool.   
  • Project debater raises an interesting claim when she notes that maybe the state has the budget to do all the good things. 
  • Maybe the state has the budget to provide healthcare, maybe it has the budget to provide welfare payments, maybe it has the budget to provide running water as well as preschool.
  • I would love to live in that world, but I don’t think that is the world we live in.
  • I think we live in a world where there are real constraints on what governments can spend money on. 
  •  I’m not sure that subsidies even help those individuals that the project debated thinks that we should be helping.
  • Project debater said high-quality preschools can lead to huge improvements on individuals lives.
  • Maybe, but I’m not sure if you massively increase the number of people going to preschool they are all going to be the ones going to the high quality preschools. 


  • At the end of this debate, I don’t think the project debater has helped those individuals she identifies as the most important.
  • But, in reality, has hurt them.   

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