A hotel in Japan uses robots to fulfill many of its staff positions, as a way to cut on costs, make the rooms more affordable and entertain the guests. A guest of Henn Na Hotel being helped by a female robot at the reception of the hotel. (Image via csmonitor)
Robots: some people are fascinated by them while others are rather fearful of the machines. No matter one’s position, robots are now becoming an integral part of society. Many businesses are involving more machines in their daily operations. However, there is an area of business where it could be hard to let robots do the job: customer service. Granted, robots are already in customer service; mostly in call centers. Unfortunately, they are not always useful and can worsen the customer’s experience. Now, how can they possibly be a good idea in a face to face situation?
A Japanese hotel’s owners seem to believe that it is a good idea to use robots as receptionists instead of employing humans. To make it even more interesting and unique, the robots are in the shapes of dinosaurs (with a hat) and women dressed in business attire. Why dinosaurs and women? Because the hotel is part of an amusement park inspired by the Jurassic era. So, it is probably no surprise that the dinosaurs are very much appreciated by families with kids. Robots are also present in the bedrooms in the form of a jumbo size egg with a screen displaying two eyes and a smile. Another robot in that hotel is a rolling garbage can with two arms, two eyes and a mouth. There is also a male humanoid robot who plays valet and carries guests’ luggage on a cart. To add to this mechanic staff, there is a robotic arm behind a glass window, which is in charge of helping guests store their precious items in the hotel lockers. How can robots replace effectively humans?
At Hotel Henn Na (meaning “weird” in Japanese), the dinosaur- receptionists are set up to speak English while the females are set up to speak Japanese. With that features the robots give instructions to the guests they detect using motions detectors. Using a touch screen placed in front of the robots, guests can enter their information so that the robots could check them in. But, the robots are not equipped to handle the usual electronic room keys many hotels use. Therefore, during check-in, the guest’s face is registered in the system, and the facial recognition feature at each room’s door allows the guests to unlock or lock it. Inside the rooms, there is a robot called Tully on the nightstand, that answers simple questions related to topic like the weather, the time of the day. Tully can also perform task such as turning the lights off.
In the consignment room of the hotel, guests can hand a box full of their precious items to a mechanic arm, similar to the kind used in factories, that will place them in the appropriate slot on a wall in the room. For security reasons, the robot is behind a glass window, and the box is exchanged between the guests and the robots through an opening in the window. The boxes are kept safely till the guests come to claim the items back. The whole system was named “the robot cloak room.” Another robot serves as concierge and uses voice recognition to recognize guests, but this concierge won’t be calling cabs or doing shopping for the guests. Hideo Sawada who oversees operations at the hotel explains that he wanted to introduce innovation and technology in his hotel. And he found a way to do so while lowering the prices for his guests. As a matter of fact, it only costs $80 to spend a night at Henn Na Hotel as opposed to $160- $240 spent on average in a nice Japanese hotel.
Japan is currently leading worldwide in the field of robotics. To the point that the government has factored robotics in their growth plan. The problem is the robot cannot take care of all the tasks a human could. Plus, robots need maintenance. So, it is probably safe to say that humans are not out of the equation yet. Even Henn Na Hotel owners understand that; so much so that the hotel also has a few human employees to compensate for what the robots can’t do. Robots are certainly a good solution to save on operating costs, and if they are used in situations like cleaning up nuclear disaster sites (like the Japanese are planning to do), they might be able to protect lives as well. However, what happens to the jobs they replace?
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