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Coming to a hotel near you: The robot humanoid receptionist

Source | The Times Of India

BERLIN: In a hotel not in a galaxy far, far away, a robot bids you welcome as you pull into the driveway.

Another hands out the keycard to your room, and a third gives you the password to the WiFi network.

Robots are making an entry into the hospitality industry that has until now always prided itself on delivering a warm and personable touch.

At an entrance to Berlin’s exhibition hall where thousands of travel industry professionals are gathering for the ITB trade show, humanoid robot ChihiraKanae greets visitors – in English, German, Chinese and Japanese.

Dressed in a blue jacket with a neck scarf, ChihiraKanae is on her first visit to Europe where she is seeking potential employment for herself and her kind.

Three months ago, her “sister” began working as a meet-and-greeter in a Tokyo shopping centre.

Their creator, Toshiba, also foresees a great future ahead for them in tourism.

Mario has already found a job – at the Ghent Marriott Hotel in Belgium, where he has welcomed visitors since June.

He is also multi-lingual, speaking 19 languages to be precise. On top of that, he helps with serving at hotel buffets, and entertains guests by singing and dancing.

Unlike ChihiraKanae, Mario doesn’t pretend to look like a human.

Standing just 50 centimetres (1.6 foot) tall, Mario is white with red stripes, has speakers for ears and a total of just six fingers.

But his employer is pleased with his work.

He “puts a smile on everybody’s face,” said Roger Langhout, director general of the hotel, adding that “it’s a good way to get people to remember our hotel”.

“We are still exploring the possibilities of Mario,” he said, even if he acknowledges that humans can never be fully replaced by machines in the hotel business.

Oxford University’s Carl Benedikt Frey believes however that robots do have a big future in the industry.

“In tourism, quite a few jobs remain non-automatable, like concierges or chefs,” he said.

“But a wide range of jobs are very much sustainable to automation,” he added, suggesting that robots could work as waiters, dishwashers, tour guides or even chauffeurs.

What is key is that they should do tasks that require only basic communication, he said.

In fact, a survey of 6,000 travellers by US online bookings company Travelzoo found that two in three people are comfortable with seeing robots in the tourism industry.

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