By Taylor Welsh, writer/engineer at AX Control
From chatbots to robot assistants, the use of robots in the hospitality industry has become more widespread in recent times. The first time robots were used in hotel service was in 2015, in Henn-na hotel, Nagasaki, Japan. Since then, different players in the hospitality industry have adopted the use of these machines to varying degrees.
The use of robots on other industries, especially the manufacturing industry has been far reaching. They have been put to use in doing jobs considered too dangerous or mundane for humans. However it should be noted that the use of robots in manufacturing is only seen in the production process. The robots only ‘do’ pre-programmed repeated tasks most of the time. In hospitality, the use of robots can be considered a bit trickier because they would be required to interact directly with humans. Human responses are largely less predictable than machine communication. Despite this glaring difference, scientists and engineers have made some strides in the creation of robots for service in the hospitality industry.
Obviously, the success or otherwise of robotics in the hospitality business is dependent on how comfortable the customers are while being attended to by these robots. It is interesting to note that in a study conducted in 2017, not less than 60% of the respondents said they would be comfortable being attended to by a robot. That being said if previous trend of new technologies are anything to go by, if a new technology is effective or efficient at what it’s supposed to do, people generally get along with it and eventually get over any initial skepticism.
There are advantages that come with the use of robots in any industry. One of these advantages is the fact that robots are not prone to exhaustion. Also, robots do not have bad moods or bad days. They can work with peak efficiency for longer periods than humans. Robots are also able to carry out a whole lot of tasks faster than humans. Additionally, when robots are used, human error is eliminated. You can expect a very high level of precision and accuracy. A robot definitely wouldn’t forget your orders.
One very obvious disadvantage of robot use is that it will ultimately replace humans at work and lead to unemployment. This is one of the most popular reasons some people would give for not wanting to utilize robots. Well, it depends on how you look at it. Increased use of robots also means increase in demand of several specialists in robotics. It opens up spaces for employment in the AI industry. At least for now, it’s humans making and programming the robots.
A real disadvantage I have come to realize is that robots cannot act beyond their pre-programmed range of actions. Sure, with artificial intelligence, they can learn a few things, but whatever new information they would learn has to be within certain confines. For example, if a room service robot is attending to a person in a hotel, and the customer has a heart attack, what does the robot do? The robot is probably still asking “How may I help you?” while the customer is dying. A human room service staff would at least be able to call for help immediately. A robot normally wouldn’t do this because it wasn’t really programmed to sense danger; it was made to do room service.
Another drawback as regards the use of robots is the initial costs of procurement. They can be quite expensive to purchase. On the other hand, they do not get paid every week, so it can be a form of long term investment.
Even with the potential disadvantages mentioned, the use of robots is gaining popularity among hotels and other establishments in the hospitality industry.
It’s a critical period in the journey of the hospitality industry robots. The initial costs have drastically reduced from what it used to be, more people are accepting the use of this technology around the world. This trend is definitely set to continue whether we like it or not, because at present, the advantages seem to outweigh the shortcomings. So, what should we look forward to in the coming years as far as robotics in the hospitality industry is concerned?
Right now, the duties of robots have moved from being just the dangerous and difficult tasks that we don’t want for humans. Robots now do the everyday job of making people happy, serving them food, waiting on them and making children laugh. This recent activities of robots are expected to double by the 2019. It is expected that there will be more robots in the business of room cleaning, porter duties, waiter duties, and possibly in the future, robots could help park your car when you stop at that fancy restaurant or hotel.
Now, we listed unemployment as a negative side effect of an extensive use of robots in hotels. However there are contraindications to this assumption. In fact in hotels where relay robots are used, the management had to hire more staff than they would have originally had. This is because they were able to cater for many more guests, and as such they the number of their guests rose exponentially. People were attracted by the level of effectiveness in these hotels and came in their droves.
Presently, there is an increase in the demand of robotic engineers, programmers and other specialists involved in building and maintaining robots. Institutions of learning are also adjusting their courses of study and curriculum to include fields of study like robotics majors. It is a wide discipline with numerous opportunities, ranging from engineering to psychology, computer science and kinesiology. If critically examined it seems the opportunities that will eventually be created by the adoption of robots in hospitality and other care industries far outweigh the feared loss of jobs, if there will be any at all.
I think what is important is how business owners manage the introduction of robots into the system. They shouldn’t see it as a transition phase from humans to robots; rather, they should consider it a recruitment move.
Until now, robots were mainly used in assembly plants and manufacturing industry. They did not need communication skills. They only needed to be able to do the brute work. However, with recent developments, robotics has reached a new level of adding things like empathy, communication and others. This presents a new level of challenge in artificial intelligence.
We all know how humans can be. Unlike machines that have routine responses and movements, humans have a much wider range of communication possibilities. In my opinion, programming a robot to communicate to people is a bigger challenge the building them for brute regimented work. This means that they have to build the robots to have certain personality types that would be very likeable and non-problematic.
The upside of this is that when you have seemingly insatiable customers, where a human waiter, porter or valet can be irritated and respond accordingly, especially if both the customer and the staff are having a bad day; a robot will respond calmly, as programmed. The manager can devote their time to serious issues instead of settling petty squabbles. There’s another side to this though: people will generally be better behaved if they know the robot they are interacting with will never be riled or respond rashly, provided the engineers haven’t added “petty” settings to the robot’s system.
Looking ahead, robots would be data goldmines in the nearest future. Communication and customer feedback patterns can be mapped and noted by the robots, which will be used to address customer relation issues. The best part of this is that the hotel management does not have to wait till there is an incident till they adjust their operations to cater to their customers better. The patterns recorded and learnt by the robots can be used as data to predict customer preferences and adjust services accordingly.
Combined with the use of Internet of Things in artificial intelligence, there is communication in real time, and operations can be adjusted as often as many times in a single day, to suit customers. This is one thing humans cannot compete with. When this enormous body of data is analyzed, there are unlimited advantages that will be gained. Every business owner knows that information is power. Robots are essentially computers, and if there’s anything computers do very well, it’s information processing.
For the customers that may be skeptical about the introduction of robots, can you take a minute and ignore what you already think about robots. Think of them the way you see ATMs, phones and other devices. Robots do not replace people, rather, they are tools used by people. Know this and sit back to enjoy the premium quality service you paid for. So get ready to be attended to by a robot at the receptionist desk one of these days.
Taylor Welsh is a writer/engineer for AX Control, an industrial automation parts reseller located in North Carolina.
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