August 13, 2014
Starwood served up a tech storm when its Cupertino, CA Aloft hotel announced it was "testing a robotic bellhop" inartfully described by the New York Times as a "human-friendly sibling of the Terminator". The robot is essentially "a wheeled service vehicle designed to shuttle items from the hotel lobby desk to guest rooms".
Starwood was quick to tout its introduction as more of an efficiency tool than one that would cost human jobs. Perhaps but a key point Starwood may be missing is that machines can complete some jobs currently being performed by humans but cannot really provide service, at least of the kind one expects in branded and/or boutique hotels.
At first glance Botlr appears more to lean more towards the mechanical part of its portmanteau handle with very little if any to its butler aspect although Starwood expects to "see this as an enhancement to our customer service". Whether that turns out to be the case or not will be known before long but there are parallel service related businesses where robots and automation has turned out to be a mixed bag notwithstanding the non-sequitur offered by some of Botlr's proponents about reverting to an age without tractors. Customers can sometimes end up being chary of automation/robots as has been the case especially when system failures that are inevitable result in false room entries and other security mishaps.
Another robot aimed at bolstering customers service that has garnered attention but with as yet indeterminate benefits is a roving robot installed at Edmonton airport. Not only does it move to address passengers but it can not only give directions and actually take them where they need to go! Further, they potentially can interact in 30 different languages!
Thus far the cost of the robot remains unrevealed and likely runs into the tens of thousands although Moore's law likely will bring it down particularly if it picks up traction with large orders resulting in mechanical siblings often accompanying elevator cabins along with guests, offering a heretofore unknown take on customer experiences .