Savioke, a spinoff from Willow Garage led by Steve Cousins, will on Aug. 20 start testing its ROS-powered SaviOne autonomous service robot at the Aloft Cupertino hotel in California, across the street from Apple's corporate campus.
The robot, nicknamed the A.L.O. robotic butler (Botlr) by the hotel, will help human employees deliver amenities to guest rooms and move linens and towels from the laundry room to guest rooms and to the fitness center in just three minutes or less.
If this hotel-funded trial is successful, it is expected that 1-2 robots will be rolled out across all Aloft locations. A sign that robots are slowly but surely getting into the travel and hospitality space.
"I see this as an enhancement to our customer service," Brian McGuinness, Starwood Hotels' senior vice president for its Specialty Select brands, which include the Aloft hotels, tells The New York Times. "It's not going to be a replacement for our human talent."
According to multiple reports, Starwood uses the Cupertino hotel as a testbed for the latest gadgets. "We thought the idea was brilliant, a little bit of child wonderment, somewhere between Rosie from the Jetsons, R2-D2, and Wall-E," says McGuinness.
The three-foot-tall robot can reach speeds of up to four miles per hour while traveling to any of the hotel's 150 rooms. It has a camera and several sensors to recognize whether the room door has been opened and then lift the lid on the storage bin that holds the delivery.
When it reaches an elevator, Botlr wirelessly sends a command for the door to open. And when it returns to the lobby, Botlr plugs itself into a recharging station awaiting its next command.
Here's more from The New York Times about how the Savioke-Starwood partnership came about:
Before entering into an agreement with Starwood to deploy delivery robots, Mr. Cousins said that Savioke was interested in a range of service industry applications like assisted living facilities and hotels. The company would not disclose how much the robots cost.
Like Mr. McGuinness, Mr. Cousins deflected questions that robots would displace jobs, and pointed out that the company’s motto was "Robots for humanity."
"Over time we want to help all people, but especially people with disabilities," he said. He added that he shared the perspective of economists who believe that while technology may destroy particular job types, over all the economy will continue to grow and new kinds of jobs will be created by high tech.
The number of jobs in the world, he argued, has grown since society began automating.
"If you really want to create a lot of jobs, just outlaw tractors," he said. “The work force would have to go back on the farm, but nobody is willing to do that."
As a hotel application, however, he said he saw the initial version of his simple delivery robot as freeing up the hotel desk clerk from having to run up to the room, giving the staff more time with the guests.
Botlr will have a Twitter hashtag, #MeetBotlr, as it does not take cash tips. It asks for tweets and has a screen that asks guests to rate its performance. If it gets a high rating, it will do a small dance.
"In our early testing, all of us at Savioke have seen the look of delight on those guests who receive a room delivery from a robot," says Cousins. "We've also seen the front desk get busy at times, and expect Botlr will be especially helpful at those times, freeing up human talent to interact with guests on a personal level."
Cousins says Savioke will expand its pilot program in 2015. "We expect A.L.O. to delight guests, and also believe that some travelers will make a point of visiting the Cupertino Aloft for the sole purpose of getting a chance to meet A.L.O. in person. We believe the staff has more important things to do than deliver a toothbrush or a package of chips to a room, and that they would prefer to spend their time creating a more personalized experience for guests."