Bye, Robot
Bye, Robot
04 FEBRUARY 2019 8:47 AM

It seems like only yesterday when robot receptionists and concierges were being touted as the must-have addition to the lobby, but already the wheels are beginning to come off and our mechanical comrades are being shown the door. It’s not all bad news, though.

The employment situation for robots in hotels have taken a couple of turns in the last months.

First, news came in that the original robots—the artificial intelligence employment pioneers, the trailblazers of job seeking within the fourth industrial revolution—at the Henn-na Hotel at The Netherlands-themed Huis Ten Bosch theme park, near Nagasaki, Japan, have received their pink slips.

Not all of them have been terminated, but there has been a “right-sizing,” with half their number now spending more time with their metal families.

Those leaving will add to their LinkedIn pages that they worked at the hotel between June 2015 and January 2019.

If there is a more serious side of this, it might be the question as to whether robots are a novelty or a serious addition to hotel management and operations

There was a surge in applications following their start. Originally, 80 robots ironed creases in their khaki trousers and set off for their first days, but their number soon multiplied until it reached the science-fiction heights of 243, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Maybe there was some animosity between the robots. Maybe the Old Guard, the original AI-ghty (that’s a terrible pun, I know), became condescending and mean to the new arrivals, the upstarts, who thought they knew more, or were programmed to do so.

Apparently, one robot “mistook a guest’s snoring for a spoken request, (waking) him every few hours by saying, ‘Sorry, I couldn’t catch that. Could you repeat your request?’” The thoughtful act probably was not greeted by the appreciation the robot might have hoped for or expected.

Robot help certainly would not be deemed fit for all hotels, even if artificial intelligence is being employed in all manner of other hidden spaces of hotels to help run operations more seamlessly.

Robots searching through online job advertisements probably are not pondering this, especially the 120-or-so Japanese ones that had the least seniority.

Is it too far-fetched to suggest that it was disgruntled, sacked robots that were behind both the closed-by-drone fiasco of British airports just before and after Christmas Day and the record-long partial shutdown of the U.S. government?

One of those down-on-their-luck robots might have resurfaced as Robi, the robot at hotel 25hours Hotel The Circle in Cologne, Germany, which is old enough to start its educational phase. Although it is suggested that Robi was “originally developed in 1998 by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering & Automation IPA in Stuttgart” and is a graduate of the “fourth generation of the Care-O-bot 4 series.”

The good folk at 25hours have not taken any chances, though.

Maybe they had read reviews stemming from Japan, but Robi had to undergo six months of probation and even now that its education really begins it is allowed nowhere near guestrooms, apparently.

One of his tasks is to ask those checking in if they want a selfie, but bilingual Robi—fluent in German and in English—can also show guests different types of rooms and, most importantly, the bar.

The hotel’s GM Nils Jansen has good news for humans, too, saying that “trainee Robi is a quirky addition for us, and he still has a lot to learn. He can't replace a real human, though.”

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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