Don’t be alarmed by that robot delivering a toothbrush to your hotel room


A Silicon Valley hotel is now employing a robot to make deliveries to rooms. (Aloft Hotels)

The situation usually plays out like this. You’re unpacking in a hotel room and realize you forgot something. Rather than trek to whatever store might be near, you call the front desk and ask for a razor, toothpaste or whatever you need. The hotel then sends someone up with the delivery.

Except for the Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, Calif, which will begin using an R2D2-esque robot for such trips. Fittingly, Aloft’s parent company, Starwood Hotels, tests the latest technology at the Silicon Valley hotel. Guests can enter their rooms with a smartphone app and bypass the traditional check-in process at the front desk.

For now, only one robot will shuttle around the hotel’s hallways in a pilot program, but Brian McGuinness, global brand leader at Starwood’s Speciality Select Brands, expects multiple robots in the halls of all of Aloft’s locations by early 2016.

The robot, which Aloft is calling the Botlr, is capable of safely riding elevators and navigating winding hallways. Botlr uses a camera and sonar to map out the hotel so it isn’t smashing into walls or falling down unanticipated steps. An elevator was retrofitted to communicate wirelessly with Botlr. The elevator car alerts Botlr that it’s in the lobby and safe to board. Botlr then boards, and passes on what floor it wants to travel to. McGuinness says Botlr can be trusted to share an elevator with guests, and generally lets them exit first.

Because Botlr — made by Savioke — can’t knock on doors, it is programmed to call the room in question and play a recording that alerts guests that it’s standing outside.

For now it’s only capable of making one delivery at a time, but McGuinness said there are plans for Botlr to be able to carry more and make multiple deliveries on one trip. This sounds like a good example of automation replacing jobs traditionally held by humans. As many have cautioned, robots will make certain positions unnecessary. But in my conversation with him, McGuinness was adamant that this wasn’t the case.

“We think this is such a huge opportunity to deliver better service to our customer.  The mundane task of running a razor behind the scenes goes away, you’ll see our associates more because they’ll be more front and center than they’ve ever been,” McGuinness said. “This is by no means replacing the human element of hospitality.”

Do you agree?

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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