In a sign of the times, Japan is going to open the world’s first hotel staffed almost entirely by robots and controlled by the latest in computer technology. The robots are very human like and might look a little creepy as compared to innocent soon-to-come family robots like Jibo, friendly sales robots such as Pepper or educational ones like Nao. However, the technology behind the hotel bots makes them nonetheless impressive.
The fall of 2014 was probably the first time most of us recall seeing the words “robot” and “hotel” together in the tech press to any widespread extent. At the time, we were subjected to news of the arrival of small and friendly robotic butlers such as SaviOne from Silicon Valley based Savioke. Whereas the innocent SaviOne rolls around and discretely delivers messages and snacks, we might now encounter robotic creations more similar to a dystopian (or maybe utopian, for some) movie scenario. Let’s meet the robots of the soon-to-be hotel that takes the concept of automation to new heights, and saves money by doing so.
The human-like hotel staff robots will find their occupation in the theme park Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki, a large Japanese city. As Al Jazeera writes about the robot hotel, they report that it will initially be staffed by 10 robots working alongside 10 humans to provide a wide range of services from manning the reception desk to carrying bags and cleaning rooms. However, the management hopes to eventually have the hotel almost entirely staffed by the machines. These are some illustrations of what the hotel reception will look like:
CNN conveys that the robot hotel will feature three “actroids” that will act as receptionists. An actroid is a type of humanoid robot with strong visual human-likeness developed by Osaka University and manufactured by Kokoro Company (see picture below for reference of human resemblance of the receptionists). These robots can mimic such human functions as blinking, breathing and speaking, with the ability to recognize and process speech and touch. Moreover, the hotel will initially employ four service and portiere robots, as well as others engaged in basic and tedious tasks such as cleaning.
Interestingly enough, the robot hotel will actually have very facile prices. According to The Telegraph, the minimum room rate at the Henn-na Hotel will be ¥7,000 (about £40), and although guests will find the price increase as people bid for the rooms online, the rate for a night’s stay is likely to be capped well below the rates at the three other hotels at the theme park (which start around ¥20,000 to ¥30,000).The cheaper rates will be possible because the use of robots and power-saving equipment such as LED lights and renewable energy are all expected to reduce operating costs.
Guests will access their rooms through facial recognition software rather than key cards, and room temperatures will be monitored via a radiation panel that detects body heat, instead of regular air-conditioning, according to The Washington Post. Moreover, rather than calling reception, guests in need of additional facilities and services request them through a hotel-provided tablet. This means that the rooms and service are initially quite sparse in nature, but the on-demand functionality really helps to keep the costs down – and the robots and electronics do not mind since they don’t get exhausted easily.
According to Japan Times, the two-story Henn-na Hotel is scheduled to open July 17, and apparently it will be promoted with the slogan “A Commitment for Evolution”. Reflecting the above information about the comparably low rates, the newspaper also reports that the theme park President Hideo Sawada recently in press-conference stated that the robot hotel “will be the most efficient hotel in the world”. This summer, we will see if these words will hold true and with great interest follow what this initiative can be the start of, in terms of future human-robot interaction.