Robot butlers could revolutionize hotel industry
You have just checked into your hotel. Exhausted from the journey, you begin to unpack. To your dismay, you have forgotten not only your phone charger but your toothbrush as well. A few minutes after calling the front desk about for your forgotten items, the phone rings. An electronic voice says, “Hello, your delivery is ready outside of your door.” Outside, the items await inside the bowels of a friendly robot, and it asks you to rate its service via the touchscreen display that also serve as his eyes. After that, he scoots away toward the elevator, on to help the next guest. The best part — there’s no need to tip him.
Guests staying at the Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, California will soon be having this experience. The robot’s name is Botlr, officially known as the A.L.O. Project, and it was made by the start-up company Savioke (pronounced ‘savvy oak’). Botlr is roughly 3 feet tall, weighs less than 100 pounds and moves at a human’s walking pace. It can also take elevators on its own to move from floor to floor.
“We believe the staff has more important things to do than deliver a toothbrush or a package of chips to a room, and that they would prefer to spend their time creating a more personalized experience for the guests,” said Steve Cousins CEO of Savioke in his online blog.
There are already fears that these robots could lead to job replacement and eventually the automation of the hospitality industry, as well as other concerns about losing the human touch.
“A bellhop tells you not just where to find ‘a bar’ but a bar you might actually want to go to, a place where real locals, not guidebook locals, hang out. On occasion, a bellhop is a liaison between you and your various vices,” John Hendrickson said in his Esquire article regarding Botlr.
Hospitality junior Marysha Bayzhanov who works the front desk at the UH Hilton Hotel, and her two co-workers crowded around a screen to see the demo Botlr.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that this could be a replacement for a hotel worker at all,” Bayzhanov said. “All it can do is carry towels and maybe some newspaper, but it can’t think on its own. In the hospitality field you need to be able to think on your toes and always be prepared if something happens. This robot can’t do that, only a person can.”
Botlr currently has about 2 cubic feet’s worth of carrying capacity within itself, and there is no estimate for how long it takes the robotic bellhop to arrive at its destination.
“I mean, this could work if the guest was looking for private items they didn’t want other people to know about,” Bayzhanov continues. “Like a condom!” one of her coworkers chimes in.
Hospitality management graduate student Kelvin Chuang said he doubts some of Botlr’s capabilities.
“Can this clean rooms too? It doesn’t look like it can. It’s (a) nice convenience to have for guests, but overall it looks to be just a novelty right now.”
Botlr was funded in part by Google ventures and uses sonar technology, lasers and cameras to know when people open doors and to maneuver around obstacles in its way.
Hilton alumna Angela Hernandez Peña, general manager of a Residence Inn by Marriott in the Houston area, said she is unsure that she would get these for her hotel.
“These robots don’t seem to be cheap and I don’t even want to know what it could cost if one were to break down. It is a neat idea but the idea of it breaking down and hogging the elevators or running down a small child gives me shivers.”
If Botlr is successful next week in the Aloft hotel, hundreds of hotels worldwide may introduce them in 2015. Cousins is optimistic.
“There are all these places, hotels, elder care facilities, hospitals, that have a few hundred robots maybe — but no significant numbers — and we think that’s just a huge opportunity.”