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Can robots really run our hotels?

by Sharron Livingston
Dash robot concierge at the Crown Plaza

Do you remember R2-D2? His creator George Lucas referred to him as a ‘thermocapsulary dehousing assister’, but you may remember him as the cutest robot or droid that served the Skywalkers in Star Wars. His role was to save lives, resourcefully fix broken objects and find solutions to all manner of problems. Who wouldn’t want one?

Data, the human-like robot or android who served as an officer in Star Trek’s starship Enterprise for decades was also much liked. A life-size humanoid who was programmed to be incredibly useful, polite and even charming to the point that he even dated a human woman for a while.

We have also seen the likes of the beautiful androids such as those featured in Stepford Wives and more recently the new TV series of Human. In both productions robots are depicted as beautiful human-like machinery, created to be of service and even become a member of a family.

There is no end to our fascination with all manner of artificial intelligence in our popular culture, and though you may not have realised it, the idea is seeping into our service industries. In fact it is a reality that has been with us for some time.

Thirty years ago a very basic automated after hours check in was already in place at low cost Formule 1 Hotels who saved on staff costs by the simple use of a hole in the wall to check-in. You could go directly to the room without engaging with a human staff member.

But things have evolved. Starwood Hotels have been piloting robotic butlers and most recently the Crown Plaza Silicon Valley have introduced the three foot tall Dash who delivers snacks, toothbrushes and other amenities to hotel guests. Dash moves at a human walking pace and can independently navigate between floors, even calls the hotel lift using a special Wi-Fi connection. When Dash arrives at your room, it phones you to let you know about it’s arrival, delivers the requested items, and makes its way back to the front desk where it can dock itself into its own charging station.

Dash robot concierge at the Crown Plaza

Dash robot concierge at the Crown Plaza

It all sounds nifty but nothing compared to what has been put in place on the Royal Caribbean cruise ships – Quantum of the Seas. Everything is automated but particularly amusing is their robotic bar tender – essentially a computer with arms – who takes your order and mixes your cocktail in front of you and even has the cheek to ask for a tip when all is done.

Quantum of the Seas - Bionic Bar

Quantum of the Seas, Bionic Bar. Guests place orders via tablets and then have fun watching robotic bartenders mixing cocktails.

So what about the idea of a hotel that is staffed entirely by robots. Too futuristic too be true? Actually no, it’s here now and functioning successfully in Nagasaki in Japan.

Henn-Na Hotel opened last month and the reception desk has a trio of robots who blink, seem to breathe, and talk you through the check-in process with impeccable manners.

Check in desk serviced by a tri-lingual dinasaur at Henn-na Hotel

Check in desk serviced by a tri-lingual dinasaur at Henn-na Hotel

Curiously, one of the robots is a dinosaur, however all three speak English, Japanese and Korean and when check-in has been processed your luggage is whisked away automatically, to your room where by your bedside is a doll-like robot with three hearts on its forehead that can dim the lights and tell you the weather.

It’s all very kitch but behind this is a serious business model in process. The robots have been designed by a company called Kokoro who have been developing “actroids” for more than a decade. The concept of a hotel served by robots is the brain-child of Hideo Sawads, president of Huis Ten Bosch. He insists that “in the future 90 per cent of the hotel’s services could be carried out by robots”.

Hen-na Hotel is trying to pitch itself as a clean, stylish-but-low-cost hotel. As a result, though rooms look good, there are few amenities, certainly no fluffly bathrobes and the nearest thing to a mini bar is a vending machine. And regarding house-keeping forget it. If you are staying less than a week you would have to pay extra if you want it.

This may seem disconcerting as you wonder how a world without the human touch will feel even though efficiency levels may be higher and budget travellers can enjoy lower room rates. And how lonesome will it be for a solo traveller whose only engagement is with a machine?

As this technology is still in its infancy no-one can be blamed for feeling a little apprehensive about the moment when things go wrong.

And yes there will be some humans on staff but there is the uncomfortable thought that for every robot in service a human being may have been sacrificed.

What price technology? Rooms start from around £40 (Y7,000) per night.

Read also: Would you stay in a hotel staffed by robots?

Would you stay in a hotel staffed by robots?

How would you feel if you were served by a dinosaur – relaxed or creepy? Or have you ever had to deal with a robot during your travels? Leave a comment


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