Sunday, October 17, 2010

Robotic Rodeo -- Day 0 -- The Seventh Carry-on

Tuesday morning, three of us from 5D Robotics, Inc. arrived at the San Diego airport. Our destination, by way of the Atlanta, GA airport, was Fort Benning, GA. Our mission over the course of the week was to demonstrate 5D Robotics' capabilities at the Robotics Rodeo.

Everyone knows that a trip of this importance does not go flawlessly. We got things off to a quick start.

You have to understand that the three of us arrive at the airport with 11 items of luggage in tow. Two suitcases or carry-ons each, two large crates of equipment, a carry-on-sized battery charger for military-spec batteries, a banner in long tube, plus a Segway robot. Even after checking what needed to be checked, we had six carry-ons between us. It should be understandable that a little confusion might arise about whose luggage belonged to whom and what exactly we had in tow.

Going through TSA security, John (names have been changed) is pulled aside. He's carrying the battery-charger as one of his carry-ons and that many wires and electronics in a military-green case is a little suspicious. He's taken to a nearby table for interrogation and trying to expedite our traveling, Davin takes a suitcase off the conveyor belt that he thinks belongs to John.

John is finally released by TSA and Davin hands the suitcase he grabbed back to John. John, of course, thinks that the suitcase belongs to Davin, and that Davin was just trying to pawn the job of carrying his luggage off on him. "Why does Davin even have three carry-ons?" John wonders to himself. "He's a Platinum member of Delta's frequent flier program. You'd think he'd learn to pack lighter." Being the nice guy he is, though, John says nothing and takes the suitcase.

We reach the gate, seven carry-ons in tow. Being a Platinum-level member of Delta's frequent flier program, Davin has a seat in the first-class section while John and I will slum it in coach. First-class people get to board first and as they are invited to come forward, John finally tires of lugging Davin's third suitcase. "Here, take this with you," John says, shoving the suitcase at Davin. "Being first-class, you'll have an easier time getting three carry-ons past the gate agent than either of us."

At this point, Davin thinks that John is now trying to pawn his luggage off on Davin, but he takes the suitcase anyway. The gate agent manning the microphone sees Davin coming with his three carry-ons and quickly makes an announcment--"We remind our passengers that there are only TWO carry-ons allowed per passenger"--but it's too late. Pretending not to hear, Davin gets past the ticketing agent and is free.

Arriving in Atlanta, Delta does its best to give us all heart attacks by cleverly moving our equipment crates from the regular baggage carousel to the oversized-baggage area, but we finally locate at and load it into our rental minivan. We drive for an hour and a half down to Columbus, GA, finally arriving at our hotel late at night. As we unload the minivan, John turns to go inside with a single backpack in hand. This is too much for Davin. "Do you want to take your stupid suitcase?" he asks, shoving the seventh carry-on at John.

John looks at it. "It's not mine," he says. Davin looks at me. "It's not mine," I quickly say. Davin frowns. "It's not mine," he says.

We stole someone's luggage. From security.

We take the bag up to my hotel room and start digging through it. We don't see any identification on the outside (Owner: "It's a carry-on! There's no possible way it could get lost.") and there's nothing inside but a stack of brand-new clothing with tags still attached and, inexplicably, a complete roll of about 5o Hefty trash bags.

Doing a second inspection of the outside of the bag, I finally notice a tiny scrap of sticker left over from some long-past flight with the name "Doe/Jane" on it. Since we took the bag from security, we don't even know which airline the person may have been flying, so I just call Delta.

It takes several minutes to get across to the baggage claims lady that we were in fact trying to return luggage rather than looking for a lost bag of our own, but she finally understands. "Well, just bring it back to the airport when you fly home," she says. Since that won't be for another another three days, Davin gets online and starts searching for every Jane Doe he can find. There are several, so he sends emails to the most likely ones.

One of the Jane Does, according to Google, ran a 17-minute mile in some race, which might explain her lack of catching up to us if she was, in fact, the one we had stolen the bag from. "Wait!" she calls out in her wavery voice, shuffling after us with her walker as we casually stroll off into the distance. "Come back with my suitcase! It has all my trash baaaaaagggggs!"

Anyway, by that time it is late and we are tired. "The day could have been worse, though," Davin points out. "Someone could have stolen our bags instead of vice versa. At least Jane Doe has the clothes she's wearing, and you can pick up trash bags practically anywhere. We wouldn't get very far at a robot demo without a robot though."

As we would find out the following day, however, there are more things than just losing a robot that can make a presenter start sweating at a robot demo. Stay tuned for the next installment of "Murphy's Law: An In-depth Exploration."


AC said...

Quite an amusing situation, all thanks to the TSA. That is weird about the garbage bags in the luggage though. I assume records are kept of who went through when, so perhaps it could be narrowed down to a few hundred, that is if the airport or tsa actually wanted to help.

Robot Rodeo is going to be awesome, are you going to see top secret stuff, or are you going to be able to take pictures?

The Writer said...

I'm actually posting the trip report posthumously. I got back late Friday night.

The rodeo was public. There were actually groups of school kids going through with their teachers, along with the military people and robotic vendors.

I really wish I had thought to take pictures, but I was so crazy busy the whole time that I honestly didn't even think about it.