Is the hospitality robot revolution in jeopardy?

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Recently Henn-na Hotel, the first Japanese robot and droid-dominated hotel, in Nagasaki, fired half of their 243 robots. We take this opportunity to check back with the new Alibaba hotel and see if the robotic solutions and job security at Flyzoo Hotel fare any better.

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Henn-na reported that they let part of their robot workforce go because they were annoying customers and staff by not performing the services for which they were hired. The reception robots were not able to copy passports, the room robots had difficulties understanding simple questions and kept waking up guests (who snored), and the porter robots only worked with perfect weather conditions outside.

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The last statement made us think whether this might be the case at Flyzoo Hotel in Hangzhou, China, as well. Mr. Andy Wang, CEO of Alibaba Future Hotel Management, reasoned having robots instead of humans by saying that they provide consistency of service and that they are not prone to human moods or variations.

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Guests who arrive at the Flyzoo Hotel don’t have to wait for check-in. The kiosks in the reception area replace humans, let new arrivals register and scan their faces to complete the sign-in. With their facial data safely stored, guests enter the elevators that take them to the correct floor and let them find the room with help of a robot assistant.

The door will open swiftly when occupants bat their lashes at the door a couple of times and only then, guests need to use their voice to control the light, temperature, curtains, TV, and more within the four walls of the room.

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The small robot that is at the guests’ services can take food and drinks orders (say room service) and delivers fresh towels (maid service). Hotel guests can go anywhere within the hotel to have doors magically open for them. Whether in the restaurant, bar or the fitness and health center, they are cheerfully greeted by non-humans.

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At the bar, the robotic arm is capable of mixing 20 different drinks. Not that we recommend that you would try them all, but if you do, the robot captures your facial data (expression?) and charges these cocktails directly to your overall bill.

Alibaba, the e-commerce giant, also encourages hotel guests to purchase items using the Flyzoo app and pick up their finds when they check out at the end of the hotel stay.

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The machine-fueled hotel service is testing the guests’ comfort levels in terms of information sharing and dealing with robots as service providers. Management assures guests that their facial recognition scan data will be immediately erased from Alibaba’s systems when the check-out is completed.

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The smart technology and robot solutions are not part of the future anymore, but part of today’s life. However, the robot domination might still be in the far distance.

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Alibaba conceded that a lot of work still has to be done to improve some of the services at the Flyzoo hotel. Probably dealing with similar issues as Henn-na in Japan that returned to mostly human-provided hospitality services after three years of robotic chaos.

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Some of the challenges at Flyzoo Hotel include that the facial-recognition technology might only be available to Chinese nationals with ID cards. The hotel management is working hard to improve the experience for international guests. To date, they might still have to check-in to the hotel with a real human behind the reception desk and use a key card to their room.    

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