This summer, Henn-na Hotel opens in Japan’s Nagasaki Prefecture with a staff of 10. Ten robots that is, including porters, housekeepers, and three humanish actroids who will tend the lobby’s front desk in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and English with unerring good cheer, if somewhat limited facial expressions. For now, humans will oversee and work alongside the robots, but the goal is to get to a staff that’s 90 percent robotic. And there’s more: At this hotel, your face will be your room key; your phone, your concierge.
Is this our future? We asked Siddhartha Srinivasa, head of Carnegie Mellon’s Personal Robotics Laboratory:
“Robots are effective in places that are specifically constructed for them, like factories: A team of robots can build a car much faster than a team of humans. But, they struggle with the clutter and uncertainty of human environments, like our homes, which are constructed for humans. That’s why you haven’t seen Rosie the Robot in your home yet. Hotels are an interesting middle ground. They are less messy than our homes, but messier and more human-filled than factories.
“We’ve already seen robots in warehouses and in hospitals, so it makes sense to see them in hotels. I would have expected the first hotel robots to be much like those in warehouses and hospitals: little Wall-E like boxes on wheels that transport trays or dirty linen from one place to another, taking on what is a truly dreary job for a human to do. I am surprised to see them as service staff. This might appeal to travelers who look for efficiency, but when I go on a trip, I want to be pampered, not feel like I’m in a factory.”