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Nicholas Hall

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Travel Tech

The concept of booking into a hotel and being confronted with nothing but robots may be a surreal and slightly unpleasant one. But a Japanese hotel is already offering this particular experience, ensuring that guests have a particularly memorable experience.

Robotic Hotel Staff

Nagasaki’s Henn-na Hotel will feature ten robotic members of staff, which are said to be staggeringly lifelike. And if this is not surreal enough in itself, scientists are already working on providing the ability for the robots to sweat and experience goosebumps.

This particularly high-technology Japanese hotel will enable you to be literally checked in by robots. Each of the 10 virtual members of staff will check in guests, take their bags from them, and escort them to their room. Although human employees are still present in the Henn-na Hotel, the establishment intends to genuinely eliminate them eventually.

Perhaps this is a little too much for the European mindset, and one is reminded of the Terminator franchise in which intelligent robots eventually view humanity as a threat to their existence! But although the Henn-na Hotel, which is actually set in the middle of a theme park in Nagasaki, is an extreme example, the concept of robotics providing enhanced customer service is a valid concept that will become increasingly realised in the coming years.

Japan has often been at the forefront of technology, and is particularly associated with consumer electronics. But the country is also making massive leaps in robot development. A particular focus of Japanese robotics has been on human-robot interaction, with the eventual intention of producing robots that can work in locations such as the Nagasaki hotel.

And as mentioned previously, researchers are attempting to build human-like functions into the robots, presumably with the intention of making them more accountable to the general public. Scientists at Kansai University are working on building in a whole range of human functions and involuntary reactions into the robots to make them appear much more like their human counterparts.

Western resistance

This might not be a concept that plays particularly well in Western marketplaces at present. But in Japan, the public has long since been attracted to humanoid-type companion and service robots, so being served by a raft of them in a hotel is not such a foreign concept. Japan has been at the forefront of implementing robotics in factories, most notably in the auto industry, and it is considered natural by technology experts and researchers in the nation for the country and its scientists to take the next logical step.

It is not only in the hotel industry where hospitality robots can make a serious impression. Many museums, such as the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, the de Youg Museum of San Francisco and the Computer History Museum in California, are already making use of robotic tour guides. These museums used sophisticated robots provide a virtual guided tour of museums to guests from all over the world.

Advantages of robots in these situations include the fact that they can deliver a tour in multiple languages. This can be extremely logistically difficult to achieve with human-beings, as there are obvious limits to multi-lingual abilities. Theoretically, robots can be taught very easily to deliver a particular tour guide in as many languages as are conceivable.

Robots can also reach places that are inaccessible by other human-beings, offering a superior accessibility picture to travellers. This can be particularly valuable in the adventure niche, in which travellers always have the desire to explore new and remote places. Robots can play a very valid role in this process, and ensure that the adventurers have a heightened and improved experience.

Concerns about Robot Revolution

Naturally there are concerns that robots could replace human-beings to some extent. But as the affordability of robots falls sharply, they can more accurately be viewed as a supplement to human roles. Companies are constantly innovating and attempting to produce next generation robots that further streamline and customise travel experience for users. And the ability of humans to interact with robots both as customers and as part of travel-related companies can help deliver an extremely nuanced and exciting customer experience.

The fact that robots are already produced on a fairly large scale to work in other environments means that a lot of the technology associated with service sector robots is already available. Manufacturers have been working for some time on producing more sophisticated versions of existing robotics, and the fact that this is not brand new technology also means that its price is not as heavy as one might imagine.

There are all manner of travel-related companies and destinations that can benefit from the robotics revolution. As the technology develops in the coming years, and people become more accustomed to be dealt with by robots, so we will see the concept being utilised on a more widespread basis in the travel industry.

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