It’s less like “Judgment Day” and more like, “How can I help you today?”
Merriam Webster defines “robot” as the following: “a machine that resembles a living creature in being capable of moving independently (as by walking or rolling on wheels) and performing complex actions.” Resembles a living creature? Complex actions? You’d be forgiven for thinking they’re unsettling, courtesy of literal decades of science fiction/one franchise in particular that just can’t stay dead. But, actually, in a 2016 study from UK travel site Travelzoo, more than 6,000 travelers all over the world said they expect robots to play a big role in their lives by 2020.
Additionally, two-thirds of those in the study said they’d be comfortable with robots operating within the travel industry. This is reassuring because those little terminators (kidding!) are definitely running around—here’s a look at some not-so-scary robots (their “complex actions” are mostly relegated to tasks like grasping and moving objects) that have made their way into the vacation business in recent times.
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‘Relay,’ the Robot Butler
WHERE: Multiple Locations
From Silicon Valley-developer Savioke, this mobile cylindrical wonder delivers food, amenities, and “a powerful guest experience to boost occupancy and revenue.” “Relay” is able to operate elevators and navigate crowds and has a lockable payload—when your door opens (at the Hotel EMC2 in Chicago, for example), Relay opens its lid, so you can grab whatever was sent to you. Steve Cousins, founder and CEO of Savioke, specified that the development team wanted to make sure Relay was never perceived as something that would cause anxiety (aka creepiness) for the people around it. As such, the team focused on effective communication so Relay has a speech bubble where he’s always exclaiming what he’s up to (if he’s on a task, his bubble reads “I’m running a delivery,” and if he’s docked, he says who he is and how he can help). Also, he has cute lil’ eyes.
‘Pepper,’ the Travel Agent’s Assistant
WHERE: Multiple Locations
A humanoid robot from Amadeus and SoftBank Robotics, “Pepper” debuted as an experiment in 2017 and interacted with customers while they were waiting to speak to a human representative; in doing so, Pepper gathers data using a touchscreen device (on its front) where the customer can like/dislike images. Pepper will then suggest “appropriate travel destinations to inspire the customer.” Now, Pepper has been deployed to over 2,000 companies, from retail to finance to travel—it’s been quite a success for passengers passing through London St Pancras!
WHERE: Seoul Incheon International Airport
“Airstar” (made by LG Electronics) is the second generation model of “Troika” (which was the “size of a young teen”) and calls Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN) home. It takes photos, answers to its name, and travelers can use Airstar to scan their tickets and it will point them to their designated gate(s). Fluent in English, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese, if you’re lost at ICN, look no further than Airstar. Literally, it’s hard to miss its glassy body and bright eyes!
WHERE: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
Spencer was part of an experiment in 2016 that saw Amsterdam Airport’s robot taking “group behavior” into account and recognizing emotions when providing assistance, specifically to KLM passengers. That’s right, apparently, he could “distinguish between individuals, families and larger groups,” and, based on their behavior, respond aptly (always in a positive way, of course). Conceived by a host of European researchers, it’s unclear if Spencer is still around, but his time at Schipol was considered a success.
‘YOSHI’ and ‘YOLANDA’
WHERE: Yotel Properties
“YOSHI” and “YOLANDA” (somehow, not a cult 80s buddy-comedy hit) are the first robots in the world to be equipped with Simultaneous Localization and Mapping technology, which means they can move freely on their own throughout the entire hotel. YOSHI and YOLANDA deliver amenities such as bottled water and towels right up to guests’ cabin doorsteps. Room service? More like Roomba service! (Sorry.) Aside from its two properties in Singapore, Yotel also has bots at their properties in Boston and Miami.
‘Tipsy,’ the Robotic Bartender
WHERE: Multiple Locations
Yes, you read that right: a robotic bartender. At Planet Hollywood in Vegas and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, MS, “Tipsy” is, well, built to get you tipsy. “A Must-Try Drinking Experience,” you order a drink with a “click of a button” and the (dancing) cyborgs make you a beverage in 60-90 seconds. To order, customers will need to download Tipsy’s app on their smartphones. Once logged in, users have the power to peruse drink recipes (or create and save their own), order a beverage, and see where in the queue their drink is. They have the capacity to produce 120 drinks/hour, which is sort of insane, even for a robot.
WHERE: Motel One Munich-Parkstadt Schwabing
If there’s one thing to note about this cool dude, it’s that he’s adorable. Sepp works for Motel One Munich-Parkstadt Schwabing in Germany and they’ve dressed him in lederhosen (traditional garments in German-speaking countries)! Sepp’s part of a partnership the property made with IBM (his maker) because the two businesses are so close to each other in proximity. Rest assured, he’ll be there to greet you at the door and he can answer any inquiries in German and English.
WHERE: The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
Maybe not as tangible as the other humanoids on this list, this robot is a virtual concierge at Vegas’s Cosmopolitan; the property is also the chat bot’s developer. Definitely intriguing, some might say “Rose” is almost awkward even, at least in her responses (i.e. “Unlock your curiosity…text me”). Word on the street, though, is that she’s “fun” and when Travel + Leisure asked her “where to find strippers,” she responded with: “I love playing pretend, so I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that, followed by the Hear No Evil monkey emoji.”
INSIDER TIP “If you’re looking for trouble, I can hook you up with the best we have to offer,” Rose says. Her number is: 702-930-8188. So.
Those Concierge Robots in Nagasaki
WHERE: Henn-na Hotel
Okay, okay, they may have been terminated, but that doesn’t make them any less iconic. The artificial front desk workers at the Henn-na “Strange” Hotel were fired earlier this year; actually, every robotic staff member—243 total—was terminated. While their service might not have been up to par, that doesn’t change the fact that the ones at the front desk were velociraptors and that in and of itself is delightful. Unfortunately, they consistently failed to manually photocopy guests’ passports (which was a requirement upon check-in). If anything, this opens up the floor to what we can expect from robots in the industry in the coming years (aesthetically, at least).
Honorable Mention: Maybe not a robot in the traditional sense, this self-driving hotel suite is certainly notable because it’s robotic to an extent. And that’s…awesome?