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Sea-Tac Airport turning to robots to speed up travel times

Sea-Tac airport is now resorting to robots after a series of attempts to ease its long lines.

“Attention: Do the instructions on the screen now,” robot Tracy said to travelers this July.

Those instructions — provided in English and six other languages — include taking items out of pockets or removing jewelry. Apparently, despite 16 years of increased, tight airport security, some passengers still haven’t gotten the hint that it’s bad practice to wait until they get to the checkpoint to remove their shoes and massive, metal belt buckles. They also aren’t getting the message that ninja weapons, knives or even lighters shaped like guns are poor carry-on choices.

RELATED: Travelers actually tried to take these items through the Sea-Tac Airport security check

Perhaps a robot can get that message across. So far, Tracy has only been tested at the airport. Officials are still looking at the data and noting any differences in wait times. They are also considering cost effectiveness and any adjustments that could be made for a potential robot program at Sea-Tac.

Are people following instructions as they would a person repeating “No lighters. Take off your earrings”? Or perhaps, are they more distracted by the autonomous figure before them — amused by novelty, or suspicious of what is clearly the genesis of robots’ rise to becoming our overlords?

“The robot is not designed to replace humans!” Sea-Tac wrote on its news blog, complete with an exclamation point.

Robot Tracy is the latest in the airport’s efforts to address increasing pressure on Sea-Tac. The airport has experienced record numbers six years in a row, and it is only expected to get worse. In 2017, it jumped to the 9th busiest airport in America (up from 13th, previously). In 2016, Sea-Tac approved spending $3.3 million to pay for additional summer personnel to manage the lines. The airport also brought in volunteers and interns from area high schools and colleges. It even provided live, soothing music to ease the stress of waiting in the lines.

Then the airport hit a new high with 3.3 million passengers traveling through it in January – a 6.8 percent increase from a year prior. International travelers are also increasing — about 172,000 were processed in January 2017, an increase of 14.1 percent versus 2016.

The numbers continue to increase and records continue to be broken at Sea-Tac. Maybe now seeing the rise of robots will be enough to get the message across — prepare for the checkpoints in advance. And dude, ditch that belt buckle.

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