The FTE Aviation & Robotics Summit 2024 in pictures – solving aviation challenges with robotics solutions

The second FTE Aviation & Robotics Summit – with Pittsburgh International Airport as Host Airport – took place on 14-16 May 2024, bringing together aviation and robotics industry innovators from 20+ countries to solve aviation business and operational challenges with robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. The truly unique event was a resounding success, featuring inspirational keynotes, panels, robotics innovation tours, technology demos, collaborative workshops, and a plethora of networking activities in the city known as the ‘Robotics Capital of the World’. The Summit was carefully designed to promote tangible outcomes and in an example of this in action, Pittsburgh’s Henry L. Hillman Foundation pledged $75,000 to the Allegheny County Airport Authority Charitable Foundation to explore the initial commercialisation stages of one of the ideas emanating from the interactive workshops.

                                    Host Airport:                                                             Summit Sponsors:

FTE Aviation & Robotics Summit Kickoff Event at Heinz History Center

Three days of innovation began at Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center, with a Kickoff Event sponsored by Allegheny Conference on Community Development and Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative. As well as providing an incredible networking opportunity, attendees heard from Matt Smith, Chief Growth Officer, Allegheny Conference on Community Development; Sara Innamorato, County Executive, Allegheny County; Andrew E. Masich PhD, President and CEO, Senator John Heinz History Center; Daniel Coleman, Founder & CEO, Future Travel Experience; and Christina Cassotis, CEO, Pittsburgh International Airport. An undoubted highlight was the inspiring keynote address by Bernadette Berger, Director of Innovation, Alaska Airlines, who helped light the fuse of innovation that permeated the three-day Summit.

Alaska Airlines inspirational keynote: ‘Preparing for the Proactive Era’, ‘envisioning the future of travel’, and an exclusive AI announcement

In her opening keynote at the FTE Aviation & Robotics Summit Kickoff Event, Bernadette Berger, Alaska Airlines’ Director of Innovation, shared her perspectives on ‘preparing for the Proactive Era’ and ‘envisioning the future of travel’, taking a deep-dive into the intersection between automation and humanity.

In her opening keynote at the FTE Aviation & Robotics Summit Kickoff Event, Bernadette Berger, Director of Innovation, shared the Alaska Airlines perspective on ‘preparing for the Proactive Era’ and ‘envisioning the future of travel’, taking a deep-dive into the intersection between automation and humanity. “At Alaska Airlines we are challenging the common trade-offs between efficiency and guest care,” said Berger. “What we see today in our industry is the Efficiency Era: delivering the same guest experience but faster. Looking ahead, we are preparing for our Proactive Era: where robotics enable our operations to detect and prevent irregular operations, where Virtual Travel Assistants guide guests every step of the way, and customer service becomes ‘super-charged’ with guest insights delivered to agents through AR-enabled wearables. We envision a future where automation and high-levels of guest care work hand-in-hand.”

During her keynote, Berger also exclusively announced that Alaska Airlines has become the first airline to use generative AI to offer its guests a natural language search tool via the airline’s website.

Live technology demos at PIT – from autonomous vehicles and teleoperation to digital twins and more

FTE Aviation & Robotics Summit attendees had a unique opportunity to experience live technology demos at Pittsburgh International Airport by several trailblazing companies. May Mobility showcased its cutting-edge autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, emphasising its application in landside operations to enhance the travel experience, with live demos in the long-term parking lot at PIT. Meanwhile, Pattern showcased its Pathfinder – robotic automation for baggage and cargo movement – driving autonomously live from an airport in Colorado. Attendees could participate in an interactive demo with a teleoperation set, where they could drive the robot live in Colorado from the demo in Pittsburgh.

Thanks to Pittsburgh International Airport’s pioneering xBridge, which develops and tests new technologies, processes and systems to help create a smarter airport, a raft of xBridge project demos were also available. The likes of AlgenAir, Blueberry Technology, Carnegie Robotics, Ecotone Renewables, Emu Analytics, Guideline, MaplessAI, Oceaneering, Sensify, SkySafe, spotLESS Materials, Synaptic Aviation, and showcased their technologies, highlighting how they can benefit airports, airlines and their partners.

Insights from the first-movers: Robotics and AI opportunities and challenges for airports, airlines and their partners

On Day 2, attendees convened at the globally-renowned Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). A fascinating session titled ‘Insights from the first-movers: Robotics and AI opportunities and challenges for airports, airlines and their partners’ was led by Ryan Ghee, Chief Operating Officer, Future Travel Experience, with expert panellists sharing how they are exploring robotics and AI to enhance operational efficiency. Zahra Merchant, Chapter Lead Robotics, highlighted Royal Schiphol Group’s robotics initiatives in its baggage halls; Kevin Kleist, Senior Emerging Trends Advisor, explained Southwest Airlines’ transformative journey from traditional AI and robotics process automation to a more versatile AI architecture; and Lars Mehrtens, Deputy Head of Department – Aviation Logistics, Fraunhofer IML shared insights into AI as an incubator for applying technology in the airport environment.

Where the rubber meets the runway: Navigating expectations, requirements, implementation, and outcomes when testing and deploying technology through partnership

Industry innovators then took to the stage at CMU to share their first-hand experiences and explore the importance of partnerships and collaboration. Moderated by Siri Betts-Sonstegard, SVP, Experience & Design, Pittsburgh International Airport, the panel included Naashom Marx, Director of Strategic Innovation – Advanced Mobility, CVG Airport; Thomas Cannell, SVP Airports Futures, IAG Airports; Fernando Bosch, Director of Operational Decision Support, British Airways; and Dana Borschewski, Regional VP Americas, Aurrigo, who discussed navigating expectations, requirements, implementation, and outcomes when testing and deploying technology through partnership.

Innovation insights from aviation, robotics and AI leaders

Keenan Hamza, VP Technology Futures & Innovation, The Emirates Group, kicked off an insightful session of quick-fire presentations, which included fascinating insights by aviation and robotics industry experts and innovators. Hamza offered a glimpse into how Emirates is tapping into robotics and AI today, and what the future might hold, before Carmel Majidi, Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, focused in on the potential of soft material technologies. Kristen Berndt, Senior Manager, Baggage Strategy & Innovation, shared an insight into United Airlines’ robotics strategy, including future opportunities and challenges, while Rebecca Nugent, Head, Department of Statistics & Data Science, Carnegie Mellon University, offered expert advice to those about to adopt AI, emphasising the importance of starting with the right data and the right people. Idar Sørgjerd, Department Manager, BHS, Tech & Op. Excellence, highlighted how Avinor is embracing robotics and automation to create a next-generation baggage handling system, before Gabriel Goldman, Senior Commercialization Specialist, National Robotics Engineering Center, explored planning for automation technology commercialisation, providing the perfect finale to a memorable session.

Robotics Innovation Tours – a truly unique opportunity to go behind the scenes

The Aviation & Robotics Summit offered attendees a unique opportunity to go behind the scenes at some of the most pioneering robotics companies headquartered in Pittsburgh, which is known as the ‘Robotics Capital of the World’. Stops on the Innovation Tours included Astrobotic Technology, which is readying its lunar lander for its next moon mission; Gecko Robotics, which offers advanced ultrasonic inspection robots; and Mill19, the catalytic redevelopment of the former Pittsburgh Jones & Laughlin Steel Company mill into a green, sustainable, advanced manufacturing research centre. Attendees also had the opportunity to visit other leading robotics and AI innovators, including Carnegie Robotics, Formlogic and Oshkosh.

Interactive Workshops and a $75,000 grant to help solve aviation industry challenges with robotics solutions

On Day 3, attendees convened once more at Carnegie Mellon University for the Interactive Workshops on ‘Solving Aviation Industry Challenges with Robotics Solutions’ facilitated by Mike Formica, Serial Entrepreneur and Founder, Formica Advanced Prototyping; Aaron Morris, Innovation Principal, Woolpert; and Anne Lopez, Product Manager & Creative Director, Anne Lopez Consulting. All attendees – including innovators from airlines, airports, government agencies, vendors and robotics industry leaders – rolled up their sleeves and played an active role in the interactive workshops. Areas of focus included baggage handling, airside asset management, aircraft servicing, workforce support & enhancement, passenger services, and airport terminal operations. After three of the ideas were shortlisted by the judges, a baggage handling solution, which leverages sensors and machine learning technology to provide a hands-free visual guide for baggage loaders, was selected by attendees as their favourite.

In an example of the tangible outcomes delivered by the Summit, Pittsburgh’s Henry L. Hillman Foundation pledged $75,000 to the Allegheny County Airport Authority Charitable Foundation to explore the initial commercialisation stages of one of the ideas emanating from the interactive workshops. In consultation with technologists, entrepreneurs, and members of the aviation industry, Pittsburgh International Airport will select one of the ideas developed in the workshops and begin the commercialisation process, which could include building a prototype, validating the market opportunity, conducting additional customer discovery, and more. The product would then be tested at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Unparalleled networking opportunities: Happy Hour at Cinderlands Warehouse

Another important part of the FTE Aviation & Robotics Summit was the unique networking opportunities, including the Happy Hour at the Cinderlands Warehouse – a unique craft brewery in Pittsburgh’s famous Strip District. The Happy Hour provided a perfect opportunity to relax and network in a vibrant environment after a busy day of panels at Carnegie Mellon University and robotics innovation tours across Pittsburgh.

FTE Digital, Innovation & Startup Hub and FTE Baggage Innovation Working Group meetings

Ahead of the start of the FTE Aviation & Robotics Summit, Corporate Partners of the FTE Digital, Innovation & Startup Hub and members of the FTE Baggage Innovation Working Group had exclusive access to members-only meetings. Attendees experienced tech and innovation-focused presentations, interactive discussions, startup pitches, and comprehensive networking opportunities.

FTE Digital, Innovation & Startup Hub Corporate Partners heard from xBridge Director Cole Wolfson; Christian Kessler, Airports Transformation & Innovation Division Manager, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA); and five high-potential local startups, before participating in an interactive discussion on robotics and AI opportunities and challenges.

Members of the FTE Baggage Innovation Working Group had the opportunity to hear from PIT’s David Kellner, VP, Facilities & Infrastructure​; Waev Director Gerry Hoadley; Vienna Airport​’s Director IT Digitization & Innovation, Thomas Dworschak; and Journey Robotics​ Founder Reeg Allen. Pittsburgh International Airport also laid on a guided tour of its baggage handling facilities.

Mark your diary: Robotics & Autonomous Vehicles Think Tank to be unveiled at FTE Global, Los Angeles, 28-30 October 2024

Learn more about robotics and automation during the Robotics & Autonomous Vehicles Think Tank, taking place at FTE Global in Los Angeles, 28-30 October 2024.

Following a morning of intensive interactive workshops on Day 3 of the FTE Aviation & Robotics Summit, each working group shared a short summary to shed light on the challenge they were tackling, the progress made in solving this challenge with robotics and AI solutions, and the all-important next steps. The presentations and the key takeaways will feed into Future Travel Experience’s Robotics & Autonomous Vehicles Think Tank, which will be unveiled at FTE Global – the ‘CES of Aviation’ – which takes place in Los Angeles on 28-30 October 2024, co-located with APEX/IFSA Global EXPO.

Learn more about FTE Global 2024 >> Register for FTE Global 2024 >>



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