Optus testing robot to sell travel SIMs at airports

Angus Kidman Posted: 12 November 2019 1:35 pm

The multi-lingual system can also help activate and authorise new SIMs.

Optus is actively working on developing a robot system that will sell travel SIMs to incoming passengers at Australian airports.

Optus showed off the robotic system, which is capable of listening to questions in multiple languages and recommending a SIM based on the user’s needs, at a media demonstration in its Sydney headquarters today.

After the robot recommends a SIM, it can be activated through an automated kiosk which scans the passenger’s passport (to verify ID) and accepts credit card payments.

If the passenger prefers to speak to a human, a second robot offers a videoconferencing connection to an Optus call centre.

The demo went off fairly smoothly, bar a few Wi-Fi delays and one moment when the robot, named “Sammy”, had to be rebooted.

The current demonstration system supports English and Mandarin, but Optus says up to 20 languages overall could be supported. The system is still in development and unlikely to roll out before mid-2020, a spokesperson told Finder.

Why use a robot to sell travel SIMs?

Automated systems open up the possibility of offering a 24 by 7 service for selling travel SIMs to incoming passengers, and being able to support multiple languages without having to employ lots of additional staff.

That would be particularly handy at Australian airports which offer round-the-clock international flights.

Melbourne and Perth are two obvious options there, while Darwin Airport is generally busier at midnight than at midday.

The main robot is arguably more of a “cutesy” talking point than a technical necessity: exactly the same result could be achieved with a touch-screen tablet.

To my mind, the real tech smarts here is the multi-language support, the ability to process ID documents (a necessity when activating a prepaid SIM in Australia) and to accept a wide range of payment options, including AliPay for the growing Chinese tourism market.

Buying at the airport isn’t always the best way to pick up a travel SIM, of course. Shopping around in advance can often get you a cheaper price, and is crucial if you want a multi-country SIM. Our full guide to travel SIMs has more on that point.

But if I was stuck in a foreign airport, I’d be happy to take my chances with a multi-lingual robot, and at least I’d be paying by credit card and earning a few points into the bargain.

Angus Kidman’s Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears regularly on Finder.

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