Bellhop goes robotic

One property no longer worries about the recruiting process, another employs fewer runners while a young hotel chain states the concept should be viewed as “an enhancement.”

Say hello to the hotel robot, who chirps in an R2D2 manner while rolling up elevators at speeds of up to 4 mph to guestrooms to make forget-me-not type of deliveries!

I became aware of hotel robots last year while on a business trip in China. The Shenzhen-based Pengheng Space Capsule Hotel had a new staff, and I was absolutely caught off guard learning that a majority of the staff members were “built” versus hired!

Fast-forward to August 20, 2014, when the Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, California, begins testing a robotic bellhop designed to shuttle items from the front desk of the lobby to guestrooms. Tabbed with the name “Botlr,” the robot knows where it is via sonar waves, lasers and cameras. In fact, it has the capacity to call an elevator wirelessly, and upon its return from Bellhop duties, it will plug itself into a recharging station until its next errand.

When a guest contacts the front desk needing something delivered — whether it be the paper, coffee, toothbrush or other forgotten items — the items are placed in Botlr’s bin, the room number is programmed and when Botlr arrives at the guestroom door, roughly two to three minutes later, (sporting a butler “collar” painted on it’s chest) the guest receives a call alerting them to the delivery.

Botlr senses when the room door has opened, at which time the lid on the storage bin holding the delivery opens. After the guest removes the item(s), a flat-panel display at the top of the robot can be used for the guest to enter a “review” (versus giving a tip), and in exchange for a positive review, the robot breaks into a small dance before departing!

Sheer guest fascination, yes, but not without a touch of controversy surrounding the sensitive topic of human service. Both Aloft Hotels and Savioke, the Silicon Valley-based startup that designed the robot, are declaring they are not interested in using automation as a labor-saving tool. They are simply “polishing” the Aloft chain, tech-embracing brand while hoping to add some additional efficiency. Validating this philosophy is Aloft’s Senior VP of Specialty Select Brands Brian McGuiness, who claims the robot “is not going to be a replacement for human talent.”

Although the implementation is the biggest leap a hotel company has taken to improve customer service, the jury is naturally still out on whether the use of robots is a gimmick or a sign of things to come.

Like any new implementation or change, I am sure some challenges and consequences will surround the arrival of hotel robots, and naturally an industry-wide trend won’t occur without some controversy and opposition.

Personally, being one who tends to live in the state of “progressive, forward-thinking fascination,” the arrival of Botlr has elevated Aloft to the top of my list of brands I am very anxious to experience. And when that time arrives, I can assure you, I will definitely make it a point to forget my toothbrush!

What are your thoughts on bellhops that beep? Are they causes of concern? Frustration? Fascination?