Robotics and the Future of the Aviation Workforce: A Q&A with Efficient Technologies CEO, Matt Senske

At Springshot, we’re always thinking about new ways to support essential workers. We believe our platform should empower people and make performing their day-to-day tasks more fun and efficient.

We live at the intersection of human and artificial intelligence, and now, more than ever, AI and robotics are at the center of workforce conversations. How we implement these new technologies in ways that improve our workflows and improve (not replace) individual human efforts is crucial to everyone’s happiness and success.

We sat down with Efficient Technologies CEO Matt Senske to discuss how his vision of robotics in the aviation industry could improve the airport experience for both staff and travelers – specifically around baggage handling – while making the work involved safer, faster and more effective:

Could you start by telling us how you got to where you are today?

I worked for a major airline for a few years. I started in San Francisco in cargo, then moved to Salt Lake City on the ramp, loading and unloading the planes. It all started because I found out you could work for an airline and be able to fly for free – maybe the greatest perk of any job in the world. I tell people all the time, if you have an opportunity, go work for an airline so you can travel and see the world. It’s phenomenal!

I went to school for business – undergrad business degree, MBA, and law school.  Though working for the airline was a part-time job, I still approached it with a business mindset and that perspective allowed me to better understand the larger picture of airline operations. I saw too many problems and realized it was too big of an opportunity to not pursue the solutions. So, I stopped everything I was doing and moved back home to Nebraska to start Efficient Technologies.

There are all kinds of gaps in airport operations these days – what made you decide to focus on baggage transport specifically? 

Being out there on the ground, I started to notice there were a lot of inefficiencies. Why were eight different people touching a passenger bag before it gets back to the passenger? There were so many opportunities for mishandled, damaged, and even lost bags. I remember being on the ramp in Salt Lake City and seeing a number of items fall from a baggage cart and no one taking action. I alerted my manager and asked whose responsibility it was and he replied, “Everyone’s and no one’s.” I asked, “What do you mean by that?” and he explained, “Everybody’s because they’re our passenger bags, but nobody’s, because if you go touch that bag, then it becomes your responsibility.” Everyone was turning a blind eye. It was a major, glaring issue with the manual processes.

What are the main problem areas with the baggage workflow?

The biggest issue is there’s a blind spot between the baggage handling system and the aircraft.

Baggage handling systems are much better now than they were a decade ago, but once it gets kicked out to a pier or a carousel, you have a person manually loading that onto the cart. From that point – when that person picks it up off the conveyor belt to when it actually gets loaded on the aircraft – the bags are not really accounted for. They’re not tracked in the process. So, I call this a “blind spot” because at any point anything can happen to any of those bags on that cart.

The same is true for connecting bags being unloaded from an airplane. They are usually scanned coming off the plane, but manual sortation and short connecting times create the opportunity for a lot of error.

According to the SITA annual baggage report, transfer mishandling accounts for 41% of mishandled or delayed baggage.
SITA, 2022 Baggage IT Insights

A worker could pull a bag for any reason, but that movement isn’t tracked in any way. They could be pulling a bag to place on another cart. They could be driving out on the ramp and one falls out. Etc. It can end up anywhere around the airport and nobody knows about it. Suddenly, we’re supposed to have 100 bags, but we only have 99 of them on board. Where is that last bag? Truthfully, it could be anywhere. We know it’s here based on its last scan in this location, but from that spot to where it is now, there is no automation, no scans, or anything that tracks it.

So there’s a really big gap in the system right now. And we’re, we’re looking to help fix that with our technology.

We know that you are working on something new and innovative which is going to revolutionize baggage transport….can you share how the new technologies that you are working on will benefit baggage handlers?

If you look back at when commercial aviation really took off, you’ll discover that we’re still using many of the same exact processes. Here we are, 60-70 years later, using the same process and the same equipment despite the fact that there were 4.5 billion passengers and almost 4.3 billion bags that flew globally in 2019. Plus, technology has made great advances in that same time, yet we haven’t updated in all the ways we should.

Our goal is to automate processes where it makes sense, and baggage is a clear area that needs attention.

As with anything in life, whether it’s meeting people or going somewhere new, first impressions are very important, as are your last impressions as you walk away. So think about the airport experience: what do you start with? What do you end with? Well, truthfully, baggage is the first touchpoint and last touchpoint for a customer at an airport. How long you wait to drop off your bag when you arrive and how long you wait to get your bag at the carousel have a huge impact on sentiment. A customer could have an amazing flight – they love the staff, they land ahead of time, and maybe they even get a free drink – but if they are waiting for their luggage for three hours they are more than likely upset and going to walk away thinking, “I’ll never fly with that airline again.” 

Baggage handling should be more important to an airline, and finding ways to improve the baggage process is a key component. That’s why we’re working on these new technological advances – not just to make the work easier and more efficient, but to improve the whole customer experience which, in the end, improves the bottom line for airlines. Our work in robotics aims to solve these issues.

What excites you about the future of robotics within the aviation industry and beyond?

There are a lot of different ways that people are thinking about solving our industry’s process issues, but robotics needs to be a part of it, and that in itself is exciting. The final solution we settle on remains to be seen, but we need to be open to asking ourselves: how can we make that worker’s job better? How can we make the passenger’s experience better? How can we create better and higher profits for airlines? They’re going to be the driver of all of it.

And, of course, we need to think about how we can create this technology in a way that is affordable. Yes, let’s bring robotics into the industry, but you can’t have a million-dollar piece of equipment because nobody’s going to buy it. It could be the best technology in the world, but if it’s too expensive, it not going to be implemented. 

Again, going back to my time working as a baggage handler, I would’ve loved to have the technology to support the hardest parts of my job. Imagine having equipment that makes a 70-pound piece of luggage feel like five or ten pounds – that would be extraordinary. It’s about creating tools that will make those jobs easier, safer, and more enjoyable. I can’t wait to see what the future holds, and to be a part of this evolution is really incredible. We’re so excited for what’s ahead!

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