It's been nearly two years since Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas wowed crowds with its Bionic Bar, at which robotic bartenders mixed cocktails for guests. But a new survey from Travelzoo and a new partnership between Hilton and IBM could mean that robots will be an increasingly important part of the travel experience in the future.
Hilton Worldwide and IBM are collaborating on "Connie," the first Watson-enabled robot concierge in the hotel industry. Powered by cognitive computing technology platform Watson and WayBlazer, Connie aims to help guests with special requests and trip planning.
How does it work? The Watson platform allows Connie to use a variety of functions, including Dialog, Speech to Text, Text to Speech and a Natural Language Classifier, to greet guests upon arrival and to answer questions about hotel amenities, services and hours of operation. Connie can also pull information from WayBlazer on local attractions outside the hotel which, combined with Watson's natural language features, allows the robot to make recommendations to guests.
Right now Connie is stationed near the reception area at the Hilton McLean in Virginia. Because it uses Watson's cognitive computing technology, the more guests interact with Connie, the more it can learn, adapt and improve its recommendations. Hilton also said it plans to keep a log of guest questions, as well as Connie's answers, to help the company improve the guest experience.
Travelzoo Survey: Travelers Expect Robots on Their Vacation by 2020
Hilton's bid to make a robot concierge comes as a recent survey by Travelzoo points to increasing acceptance of robot help among travelers.
According to the study, which surveyed more than 6,000 travelers in Asia, Europe, North America and South America, nearly 80 percent of respondents expect robots to play a big part in their lives by 2020. Three quarters of respondents said that robots will make their lives significantly better, and almost two thirds of respondents would be comfortable with robots being used in the travel industry.
International travelers are largely comfortable with interacting with robots on vacation, although some are more cautious than others. Travelers from Germany and France were the most robot-shy, while those from China and Brazil were quite positive -- 92 percent of Chinese respondents were comfortable with the idea.
Travelers surveyed cited general efficiency, data retention and recall as the main advantages to using robots in travel. At the same time, travelers from some countries, particularly Spain, worried about losing jobs to robot workers.
Famous Robots in Travel
Aside from Royal Caribbean, other travel companies are also experimenting with robot workers.
Late last year the Costa Group announced plans to bring the "emotional robot" Pepper to ships on its AIDA and Costa Cruises brands. Pepper, which is powered by technology developed in Japan by Softbank and Aldebaran, is said to be able to recognize the main emotions, take its environment into account, and act accordingly when interacting with people. Pepper has completed its first "internship" onboard AIDAstella, with plans to begin introducing more Peppers onboard AIDAprima and Costa Diadema this spring, where they will provide recommendations and tips on restaurants, events and excursions. The robot rollout is scheduled for completion this summer.
Last summer, a hotel in Nagasaki, Japan, also made waves when it opened billing itself as the "world's first hotel staffed by robots," the Associated Press reported at the time. 90 percent of the staff at the Henn-na hotel in the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Sasebo, Nagasaki, is robotic, with robots handling luggage, acting as porters, explaining breakfast times and locations and calling taxis for guests.
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