Where does my suitcase go?

To demonstrate its cutting-edge new baggage-handling infrastructure Amsterdam Schiphol Airport strapped a GoPro camera to a suitcase and sent it into the belly of the beast for a first-person view of the ride. And what a ride it is.

Schiphol is the fifth busiest airport in Europe, welcoming some 55 million passengers each year. And with that volume of people comes a mountain of luggage, the successful handling of which is no small feat. And air traffic is on the rise. At present, Schiphol's baggage infrastructure manages some 50 million pieces of luggage each year, but an €800-million program aims to boost that figure to 70 million bags.

Schiphol is quick to note that the robotic system is not intended to put humans out of their jobs, but rather to allow the current staff to handle more bags with less effort.

The programme, which is being rolled out gradually over a few years, includes a cutting-edge revamp of the entire airport baggage experience, from the introduction of automated check-in kiosks to the installation of robotic baggage handlers and a vast warren of trolleyways and conveyer belts. The infrastructure is designed to minimise non-mechanised interaction with bags, with the dual aim of improving both efficiency and safety for human handlers. Schiphol is quick to note that the robotic system is not intended to put humans out of their jobs, but rather to allow the current staff to handle more bags with less effort.

Almost half of the bags that arrive in Amsterdam will be transferred to connecting flights, so optimising the airplane-to-airplane movement of luggage was a top priority for the Schiphol team. Integrating data from the airport's own array of sensors with arrival and departure details from the airlines and third-party ground services, an elaborate radio-tracking system follows luggage from point to point, giving operators the ability to keep tabs on bags in real-time throughout their journey.

Baggage containers are removed from aircraft at all terminals and placed onto a conveyer network called the Automatic Loading Transport, or ALT, which leads to a central processing area and a mechanism called the Mechanical Unloading Module, or MUM. The MUM, under the direction of a team of four humans, empties the containers and automatically sorts the bags, using a series of cameras to keep things organised. Bags are then whisked off to their departing flights on narrow, high-speed conveyors. An enormous, stacked holding area allows the MUM to park bags with longer layovers until they're needed, which keeps the highway clear for high-priority luggage. And fear not, should a mechanical failure occur, backup conveyer will spring into action.

So the next time you're waiting for your connecting flight, browsing duty-free or noshing on pastries at Schiphol's excellent Multi-Vlaai café, take a moment to consider your suitcase. It's probably having more fun than you.

For an even wilder ride, check out Schiphol's interactive 360-degree version of this video.

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