December 1, 2015

Spencer the robot helps airport passengers get around

Filed under: Aviation by Orangemaster @ 12:03 pm

Yesterday Schiphol Airport started tests with a robot to help passengers find their gates, which are often missed due to short transfer times, delayed flights, problems getting around the airport and language barriers.

Spencer the autonomous robot guide (see picture in the link) was designed by the University of Twente together with European partners from Sweden, France, Germany and Switzerland for KLM. The robot won’t drive into a group of travellers, but wait calmly until that group approaches it. “Spencer needs to be able to recognise group behaviour and obstacles, such as baggage trolleys as well as respond to unforeseen situations”. Tests are being carried out this week and won’t involve actual passengers just yet, something that will be done in March 2016 with a new and improved Spencer.

I happened to land at Schiphol yesterday on a day where it had closed down all but one runway due to very strong winds. On my flight, which left and hour and fifteen minutes behind schedule and had us in a turbulent holding pattern above Schiphol, many passengers had already missed their connections or had very short transfer times. I can imagine that when you’re in a rush to get the right answer, a robot may not be able to pick up on your stress, a bit like the photocopier that senses your panic and just won’t print. Then you’d want to talk to a human, as already postulated earlier this year by the University of Twente: “a social robot with an overly human appearance creates an unrealistic sense of expectation for most Dutch people”.

(Link:, screenshot from the video Smart Homes)

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November 25, 2015

Schiphol train station to be renamed in December

Filed under: Aviation by Orangemaster @ 11:36 am

Dutch Rail has announced that on 14 December it will be changing the name of the train station Schiphol, the national airport station often pronounced ‘Skip-pole’, to Schiphol Airport which will help travellers identify it better as an airport, including a wee airplane pictogram to make it perfectly clear.

One wonders why Dutch Rail didn’t think of that ages ago, as Schiphol is more often than not referred to as Amsterdam Airport Schiphol just like it says on the building or Amsterdam Airport. After all the Netherlands has Eindhoven Airport and Rotterdam The Hague Airport, and many more with that formulation.

The history of the name Schiphol (literally ‘ship hole’ or ‘ship grave’) is interesting as it is unclear and based on theories. No ship wrecks were found when the land was reclaimed. The name could have possibly been related to the portaging of ships, dragging them from one body of water to another or having to do with a ‘hol’ that is a ‘low lying are of land’, as in ‘Holland’.

Using the name Schiphol for airplanes in Dutch is as amusing as using the word ‘shipping’ for sending parcels nowadays that doesn’t involve any ships.


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November 8, 2015

Life’s a beach and then you rename it

Filed under: Aviation by Orangemaster @ 7:56 pm


In 2013 marketing geniuses in Amsterdam decided to call the coastal cities of IJmuiden, Bloemendaal and Zandvoort ‘Amsterdam Beach’, and nobody calls it that because it doesn’t make any sense, geographically or otherwise.

Another bunch of marketing geniuses are contemplating calling the historical beach of Scheveningen ‘The Hague Beach’ to attract more tourists, a change already implemented on the district’s English Wikipedia page. They argue that The Hague has 11 kilometres of beach that ‘nobody knows about’, as if pronouncing ‘Scheveningen’, admittedly not easy, was the problem. The Hague is really called ‘s-Gravenhage’ and was simplified in Dutch to Den Haag, but that hasn’t stopped anybody ever.

Not far from The Hague, but way closer to Rotterdam is Rotterdam The Hague Airport, which was historical called Zestienhoven because that’s where the airport actually is. It was later renamed Rotterdam Airport and finally Rotterdam The Hague Airport to give it more international appeal. Nobody cares.

According to, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Ronal Plasterk, born and raised in Scheveningen said in a tweet: “Slippery slope: I was born in Scheveningen, not at The Hague Beach”, to which the city marketing spinners retorted that The Hague Beach is just what we’ll tell tourists, which is as condescending as sounds. Foreign nationals, historians and locals hate the idea. The city’s website still calls it The beach of Scheveningen, which almost sounds like painting by Adriaen van de Velde.

(Link:, Twitter @ShakeAtOrion)

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July 30, 2015

Aircraft that could fly Amsterdam to Perth non-stop

Filed under: Aviation,Design by Orangemaster @ 1:34 pm


KLM and Delft University of Technology have presented designs for an aircraft that could transport passengers non-stop from Europe to Australia. It looks like a flying squirrel swallowed a hammerhead shark and then an Airbus or a Boeing, you choose.

This AHEAD (Advanced Hybrid Engine Aircraft Development) aircraft, would carry 300 passengers over 14,000 kilometres, about the distance from Amsterdam to Perth. Its design features two sets of wings – a small pair by the nose and a large set at the rear – that blend into the body. The team also proposes a hybrid engine to replace conventional turbofan engines.

KLM has previously worked with Dutch designers Hella Jongerius and Marcel Wanders to create cabin interiors and tableware.

(Link and photo:

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June 10, 2015

The art of noise reduction at Schiphol Airport

Filed under: Aviation,Design,Sustainability by Orangemaster @ 2:11 pm


Visual artist Paul de Kort was asked a few years ago to design the Buitenschot land art park, a huge 33-hectare park with a series of ribbed hedges and ditches surrounded by trees that form a noise-reduction green space right off Schiphol Airport’s biggest runway, the Polderbaan. Sadly, you can’t see the park from the air and that would partially explain why I’ve never noticed it before.

The airplane noise experienced by nearby residents is mostly low frequency ground noise that radiates backwards in an oblique fashion from planes during take-off, and De Kort’s aesthetic yet functional park of furrows was inspired by 17th century German acoustic techniques as well as local farming techniques.

Completed in October 2013 Buitenschot features small parks, bike paths and foot paths. De Kort also incorporated art pieces that drew on the history of the project, like the ‘Listening Ear,’ a parabolic dish on a small pyramid one can stand in that amplifies ambient sound, echoing the park’s noise reduction purpose and a diamond-shaped lake where visitors can create ripple patterns on the water surface while standing on a bridge equipped with a wave generating device.


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June 8, 2015

Google, KLM and government favourites with Dutch students

Filed under: Aviation,Food & Drink,General,IT,Technology by Branko Collin @ 10:09 pm

klm-plane-steven-straitonSwedish marketing agency Universum has been polling Dutch students on who they want to work for after graduation.

A whopping 12,000 students from 32 universities and polytechnics were asked about their career preferences. Major Dutch companies such as Philips, Shell, KLM, Heineken and Endemol were named, but large American companies such as Google and Apple also made their appearance.

Both law and arts & humanities students named the national government as their preferred employer, followed by Google for the former and KLM for the latter. Business students like KLM and Google the best, engineering and physics students prefer Google, followed by Philips.

Compared to last year, TNO, Coca-Cola, IKEA and De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek failed to make the top 5 in any of the categories.

(Link: ANS, photo by Steven Straiton, some rights reserved)

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December 16, 2014

Toy airplane box bad salute to Twin Towers

Filed under: Aviation by Orangemaster @ 11:34 am


The Zeeman bargain items chain is recalling some 8,000 boxes of toy airplanes as they depict New York’s City destroyed Twin Towers. According to a spokesperson, the toys were made in China and had been properly tested, but the picture on the box got under the radar. The right wing of the Lufthansa plane seems to be missing as well.

The photo shows two airplanes, one imitating a Lufthansa airplane from Germany and the other flying way too low, too close to the Twin Towers and too close to another airplane to be just a casual stock photo on a box. If I were Lufthansa, I wouldn’t be too thrilled about being associated with a terrorist attack.

(Link:, Photo: Zeeman folder)

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August 8, 2014

Cabin pressure for Ryanair at Eindhoven Airport

Filed under: Aviation by Orangemaster @ 12:33 pm


On 4 August, Eindhoven Airport decided to close for air traffic at 15:45 sharp and hold a ceremony for the C130 aircraft bringing back more bodies from flight MH17 shot down in Ukraine.

A Ryanair pilot on approach to the airport at 15:32 got turned away by air traffic control (ATC) and told there would be a one hour delay for landing, which eventually forced the plane to divert. The pilot told the tower that they planned to get in on time between 15:30 and 15:40, a flight plan that was approved beforehand. When refused landing, the pilot got upset. A former Dutch pilot recorded the verbal volley and a YouTube controversy was born.

The former pilot completely understands the Ryanair pilot’s frustration who did everything he could to land his plane on time before the airport closed. For the many people on the Internet who hate Ryanair, it would be too easy to say that the pilot had no respect for the dead, which Ryanair says is not the case, and why would it be. The pilot was very much on time and if we believe what we hear, ATC isn’t really giving them a good excuse as to why they couldn’t land before 15:45 besides letting us assume that the events were not very well coordinated, as echoed by the pilot.

Perhaps the pilot could have stopped arguing earlier and just diverted as instructed, but not trying to land the plane with an approved flight plan would have also made him and Ryanair look bad. I can imagine it was easier to try and convince ATC since they weren’t saying why they couldn’t land, which probably would have appeased the pilot and given him something to pass on to the passengers, so that they wouldn’t blame Ryanair. I don’t see why the tower didn’t say ‘sorry we messed up, please understand’ and get Ryanair to divert instead of stubbornly not giving the pilot a straight answer. The Airport could have also easily closed for more time than they needed considering the circumstances. Bad communication all around, with a distinct hint of cultural differences.

(Links:,, Photo of a dress-up co-pilot clearly sitting in the wrong seat)

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June 27, 2014

Dutch detect major flaw in airplane autopilot system

Filed under: Aviation by Orangemaster @ 11:03 am

The Dutch Safety Board has detected a pattern of aircraft autopilot systems misinterpreting radio signals given by airport instrument landing system (ILS), which has led to minor incidents so far, but could lead to disaster if not addressed. And just like computer programmers trying to reproduce bugs to be able to identify a problem, the Dutch Safety Board ordered test flights and were able to reproduce the dangerous conditions that were unknown to the international aviation community until now.

On May 31, 2013 a Boeing 737-800 landing at Eindhoven airport was given instructions to land, and as usual, upon approach it switched on the autopilot for ILS landings, which uses radio signals: one type of signal says ‘pitch up’ and another says ‘pitch down’. Due to the steeper than usual approach of the Boeing, the autopilot went ‘pitch up’ instead of ‘pitch down’, while the plane already had the brakes on, the landing gear out and was decreasing its speed, a recipe for stalling the plane. The pilots took control of the plane, did a go-around, and safely landed the aircraft with the autopilot off.

In this case and other similar incidents elsewhere with different planes, the crew had a limited response time to disconnect the autopilot and recover the aircraft, a potentially dangerous situation according to the Dutch Safety Board. About 1,500 to 2,000 major runways worldwide use an ILS, while planes all around the world use an autopilot system that has this glitch.

Someone’s fear of flying just got real, but not mine though, I love flying.

If you want real details, watch this English-language video:


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November 19, 2013

Dutch student addicted to travelling

Filed under: Aviation,Weird by Orangemaster @ 8:00 am

The Germans refer to it as ‘Wanderlust’, and the technical term is dromomania, “an uncontrollable psychological urge to wander”. Dutch tax law student Valentijn Kuperus is not only constantly on the go, but tries to do it as cheaply as possible. I can imagine that if you’re on a student budget and have the urge to travel that saving money as well as planning is something you excel at very quickly. And what a lawyer he is going to make, but he’ll never be in his office.

Kuperus knows all about saving air miles, bonus programs and travel sites. He has learned all about online travel booking by spending three to four hours a day looking for deals. Last month Kuperus flew to in Abu Dhabi, UAE and Cape Town, South Africa. However, he spent all of 90 minutes in Abu Dhabi, but was very happy to accumulate thousands of frequent flyer miles by stopping there.

Simply put, Kuperus is clearly addicted to travel and needs it like a fix, a lot like a record collector needs to constantly dig crates to score a great record for next to no money.

Contrary to most of us who like to fly as directly as possible to our destination, Kuperus would rather pile up as many layovers as possible because that’s how he can score the most points to then be able to travel some more. He has even taken flights that earn him more air miles than they cost. He once landed a deal flying from Paris to Sri Lanka for 7,50 euro, a mistake on the part of the airline and a great find for him.

Kuperus has already visited 57 countries, with about 11 more coming up soon. His passport is so full of stamps that he needs to get a new one every two years. This year’s Christmas trip reads as follows: Brussels-Ljubljana-Istanbul-Cairo-Abu Dhabi-Bangkok-Singapore-Beijing-Seoul-Taipei-Ho Chi Minh City-Taipei-Hong Kong-Amsterdam.

He plans to do some studying while flying as well. He has good travel tips on his frequent flyer blog.


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