Sun, Apr 03, 2011 - Page 1 News List

NIA plans unmanned immigration booths with robotic guides

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff Reporter

In a few years, visitors could pass through unmanned immigration booths following instructions given by smiling robots when they step off the plane at Taiwan’s international airports, National Immigration Agency (NIA) -Director--General Hsieh Li-kung (謝立功) said yesterday.

The first unmanned immigration inspection booths were installed on Tuesday at Shueitou Pier (水頭碼頭) in Kinmen County, from which ferries depart to Xiamen, China.

“At this point, automatic immigration inspection booths have been installed only at Shueitou Pier, and are open only to [Republic of China (ROC)] nationals,” Hsieh told the Taipei Times during a telephone interview. “We plan to install the system at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport next month — but only for [ROC] nationals as well.”

Passing through immigration checks will be like going through a subway station ticket gate.

“Before using the system, you need to register yourself with two government-issued photo IDs, such as a passport, national ID card or National Health Insurance card, at a machine and have your picture taken there,” he said. “The registration process takes no more than two minutes, then you can scan your passport to pass through the first gate and then have your face scanned by the machine to pass through the second gate before going to the boarding gates.”

Hsieh said that if everything goes smoothly, foreign nationals would also be able to use the system by the end of next year or the year after.

After developing the system, Hsieh said he had another idea after visiting the lab of National Taiwan University electrical engineering professor Luo Ren-chuan (羅仁權), a pioneer in developing robots in Taiwan.

At Luo’s lab, Hsieh met with advanced robots “Monica,” “Luo Guide” and “Luo Head.”

Monica is able to walk, find her own way, record and store images, and greet people by talking; Luo Guide is able to understand spoken directions, search for books in the bookshelf and deliver documents, while Luo Head has a face modeled after a 27-year-old Albert Einstein and, with 36 micromotors, can imitate human facial expressions.

“We’re also looking into the possibility of bringing professor Luo’s robots into the nation’s major international airports,” Hsieh said. “We’re not planning to make robots immigration inspectors, but we’ll use them as guides to greet visitors and give them a surprise, while also showcasing Taiwan’s technological achievements.”

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