Right now, in one of a dozen California hotels, a robot bellhop is delivering towels to a guest who needs them. This is a very good thing.
For years, we’ve been listening to a torrent of hype about robot assistants. The promise was that robots would take care of senior citizens, fix things in places humans couldn’t or wouldn’t go, and serve us in all manner of other ways. So far, though, those promises have not panned out.
It turns out that most tasks targeted for robotic replacement were either too complex to be handled reliably by robots or actually required human touch for successful completion. Helping an older person bathe isn’t as simple as it sounds, for example, and it seems no one really wants a robot to help them take a shower.
That’s why Relay, the 100-pound robot bellhop—shaped vaguely like a futuristic fire hydrant—developed by Savioke is such a perfect idea. As described in the LA Times, instead of struggling with robotic limitations, Savioke’s “Relay” robot neatly leverages them to make a potentially awkward relationship easier and smoother, for three reasons:
- You don’t have to tip—though Savioke reportedly does appreciate social media mentions. Not only does the hotel save money by not having actual humans waste time in menial tasks, the guests do too!
- Delivering towels to a guest room does not require full human sentience. It’s a constrained, controlled environment with elevators and nice level floors—making it easy for the robot to navigate.
- With a robot, there’s no angst about making a real person trek to your room just to deliver something silly. It’s just a machine, you don’t have to be nice to it. Just as important, it doesn’t judge you because you’re still in your bathrobe at 4 p.m.
To me, robotic bellhops sounds like a win-win-win, but the LA Times quoted a luxury hotel manager saying that people still want the human touch. Sure, where it matters, just not delivering towels. Right now “Wally,” as the robots are called in some locations, are still a novelty. But I, for one, would eagerly welcome an army of robotic bellhops.