Instead of tipping, some hotels’ robots are asking you to tweet after they deliver amenities. // © 2015 Savioke
Feature image (above): Savioke’s autonomous robots can make deliveries and maneuver around hotels using Wi-Fi. // © 2015 Savioke
Robot butlers are no longer something relegated to science fiction or “The Jetsons” — they’re here, they’re speaking binary and they’re delivering you new toothbrushes at the Aloft Cupertino hotel in Cupertino, Calif.
Officially called Botlr, the robot helper debuted last year at Aloft Cupertino to much ado (and many guests asking to take selfies). Due to the success of Botlr, Aloft is now having its original cyber associate tour the country and make guest appearances at other Aloft properties, while also introducing a second Botlr at Aloft Silicon Valley in Silicon Valley, Calif.
Produced by Savioke, a company dedicated to creating autonomous robot helpers, the Botlrs are based on its robot prototype called Relay and are capable of maneuvering around hotels to make deliveries to guests. After delivering amenities like toothbrushes and towels, the cyber associate asks for a tweet in lieu of a tip.
Botlr has been a huge hit with guests according to Brian McGuinness, global brand leader for Aloft Hotels.
“Guests are always very excited when Botlr arrives with a delivery,” McGuinness said. “It’s also very surreal — it’s amazing to see something you dreamed of as a kid come to life in front of your eyes.”
The robots are also popular with the human staff, as the use of “cyber associates” allows them to have more facetime with guests.
“Rather than running upstairs to deliver a newspaper or towel, our associates can take more time to recommend a great place for dinner or arrange a car to take a guest to the airport,” McGuinness said. “With Botlr doing the busy work, its human counterparts have more time to make our guests’ stays special.”
Tessa Lau, Savioke’s “chief robot whisperer,” agrees.
“There’s been a big improvement in delivery times,” Lau said. “With Relay, the average delivery time is now seven minutes, and that includes the call.”
Aloft Cupertino isn’t the only hotel using Savioke’s Relay robot. This past August, Crowne Plaza San Jose - Silicon Valley unveiled its robot butler, Dash. Like the Aloft Cupertino’s Botlr, Dash delivers amenities to guestrooms and can navigate around the hotel autonomously, using Wi-Fi to operate the elevators. After delivering the goods, Dash will also hang around the guest’s room for a few seconds to allow ample time for selfies.
“Dash is easy to operate, and the team loves having an extra hand,” said David Wang, director of sales and marketing for the Crowne Plaza San Jose - Silicon Valley. “When we utilize Dash to make a delivery, it allows the team to stay present at the front desk and focus on customer needs while, at the same time, getting items to the rooms quickly. It has reduced our delivery time by half, which keeps our customers and employees happy.”
When asked if robots have a place in the future of the hospitality industry, Wang agreed wholeheartedly.
“If robots can help our staff be more present for our customers by reducing time-consuming tasks, then I believe it will be a great addition to the industry,” Wang said.
More Artificial Intelligence, Too
But robots aren’t the only way technology is changing the hospitality industry. The use of artificial intelligence is also being introduced to more forward-thinking properties.
“Technologies such as smart mirrors and smart carpets are on the horizon, and we’re looking into further working with A.I. to allow guests to use their voice to turn up the temperature, dim the lights, close the blinds and much more,” McGuinness said.
These smart mirrors will deliver the morning news, weather and top headlines of the day. McGuinness also hopes that guests will be able to use their smartphones to further customize their stay. While Starwood properties (of which the Aloft hotels are a part of) already allow for the use of phones as a room key, the plan is to also allow phones to set temperature and light controls and even brew coffee.
Other brands, such as Marriott, are pursuing virtual reality as an added experience for guests. Inspired by millennial clients who create their own content through apps including Snapchat and Instagram, the hotel brand wanted to offer its own mix of technology and storytelling via its new VRoom Service, which lets guests experienced virtual reality “postcards” called VR Postcards. These postcards allow guests to see and experience another country without leaving their room by using a 3D virtual reality headset.
“VRoom is an experiment that we are doing as we look for new ways to enhance the guest experience,” said Michael Dail, vice president of global brand marketing for Marriott Hotels & Resorts. “So far, VRoom Service and VR Postcards have been well-regarded. Many of our guests have said that VRoom Service and VR Postcards have strongly increased their outlook on Marriott Hotels.”
Savioke, the company responsible for the robotic butlers, also hopes to add additional features to improve their bots. Lau mentioned the possibility of using the robots to deliver items to staff members instead of guests. Relay could be of special use to housekeepers, who currently have to make special trips when guests ask for extra amenities.
In the future, Savioke would also like to incorporate Relay into other areas of the travel industry, such as cruise lines. The company is open to operating pilot programs for interested parties, but, for now, getting a robot into every hotel in America is the ultimate plan.
“They’re coming soon, and they’re going to take over the world,” joked Lau.
McGuinness noted that despite the incorporation of robots and artificial intelligence into the hospitality industry, however, human employees have nothing to fear.
“One thing Botlr will never replace is people,” McGuinness said. “A good hotel stay is all about the people who make your stay special, and that will never change.”