Another month, another group of robots taking on service jobs in the travel industry.
Last year we reported about hotels deploying robots to handle basic concierge and room-service tasks. More recently, according to CNET, robots were put to work in an airport, as well—cleaning detritus from restaurants and food courts, serving drinks, and providing directions to travelers.
The robots, part of the HOSPI line from Panasonic, were the centerpiece of a five-day trial at Narita International Airport in Chiba, Japan.
An article in Recode said that as part of a separate trial, the bots also were deployed at the adjacent ANA Crowne Plaza Narita Hotel.
Standing just under five feet tall, the HOSPI robot looks like a cross between R2D2 and a Simplehuman garbage pail—sleek body, no neck, two arms, and a screen for a head. The robots can use their arms to grasp and transport items with ease. The screen communicates in two languages—Japanese and English.
The robots originally were developed to be used in the health care industry, to deliver drugs around hospitals. Late last year, when some of Japan’s airports began experiencing labor shortages, officials decided to try the robots as a way to solve the problem efficiently.
Although Panasonic is still evaluating data from the trials, it is pretty incredible to watch the robots do their thing (video mostly in Japanese, with subtitles). The robots move about on their own, thanks to pre-installed maps of the airport and hotel. They also have sensors that can detect obstructions in their paths; when a robot senses that something or someone is blocking its way, the robot improvises a workaround or alternate route.
An article in the Daily Mail, a British newspaper, said that if the trial ends up being successful, the robots could be used on a broader scale to deal with the deluge of tourists visiting Japan for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.