Robots are more human than ever before. Fear not, though, for Wall-E’s relatives are here to help, whether it’s parking cars at airports, preparing gourmet meals or making medical breakthroughs. We speak to three robot designers about how the rise of smart machines will shape our lives.

Engineers Rupert Koch and Leo Meirer (both 36) always wanted to start a company together. While Meirer was living in the USA he realised there was scope to optimise the way large car parks worked, including those at airports. It would, he felt, be more convenient for passengers to park close to their departure terminal rather than a far-of car park. The solution? The duo invented a robot called Ray that parks cars. Ray picks cars up at a collection point near the airport entrance by lifting them up six to seven centimetres, before transporting them to parking spots. Its four controllable wheels make the robot easier to use than a car. With drivers not exiting the parked vehicles, they can be packed in tightly, saving space. “What’s the point having a flashy motor if you have to exit throught the boot?” Meirer points out. “The system works like Tetris. Ray organises the cars by size.”

The system works like Tetris. Ray the robot organises the cars by size.

Leo Meirer, CEO

The robot stores the relevant flight details and returns the cars back to the collection point in time for their owners’ return flights. He even factors in delays and booking alterations. Meirer and Koch set up Serva Transport Systems in 2010, found a private investor and built a prototype of their robot themselves. Ray has been operating at Düsseldorf Airport since 2014. More big contracts in Asia and the Middle East are in the pipeline. And the parking service could in future be linked to flight bookings, with the parking system operated instantly using the barcodes on boarding cards. “That would be ideal: lock up, check-in and you’re of ,” Meirer says.

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