Sea-Tac Airport testing robot program to help passengers get through security faster

Robots are being counted on to speed up security at Sea-Tac Airport.

On Tuesday, Sea-Tac officials announced the pilot program, running in conjunction with the American Association of Airport Executives Innovation Forum.

During the test week, the robot provides tips for getting through security – through audible instructions in English. The robot can also be programmed to speak six different languages and adjust, based on the language being spoken by approaching travelers

On Tuesday, KIRO 7 heard the robot say: “Hello, my name is Tracy. Please follow my instructions so the line moves quickly, and you don’t set off the body scan alarms.”

The robot reminds passengers to take-off their shoes, jackets, empty their pockets, remove their belts and to prepare for a body scan before going through screening.

The robot, named “Tracy,” can also be programmed to use her camera and scan for passengers who are wearing hats, for example, to remind them to take it off. A Sea-Tac spokesperson said the camera would not be used to record video and is not currently in use for the test period.

“We’re trying to evaluate whether robotic technology can actually help us process passengers more quickly through the checkpoint lines,” David Wilson, director of innovation for Sea-Tac International Airport.

If Sea-Tac purchases the robots, they'd cost between $20,000 to $30,000.

Wilson said one of the main reasons for a slow-down of the line is when an alarm goes off for someone who has forgotten to remove a piece of jewelry or a belt.

Last summer, Sea-Tac hired 90 temporary contractors at a cost of $3.3 million to help people comply with security screening guidelines before they reach TSA. That hire was in response to heavy wait times in early 2016 and low TSA staffing.

The contractors are no longer at the airport, now that TSA has increased staffing and opened more security lines.

A Sea-Tac spokesperson said in 2017, 97 percent of passengers have made it through security in fewer than 20 minutes.

Even so, airport officials said they are trying to streamline the process even more.

“We have seen effects already, just really early, preliminary, that someone will watch it, and then they’ll go ahead and start taking something out and putting it away,” Wilson said.

“Tracy” the robot will again be working during peak times at Sea-Tac on Thursday.

Currently, similar robots are operating at San Jose International Airport, where the robots serve to answer customer questions and give directions within the terminal.