The best robot hotels: From voice-activated butlers to text-friendly chatbots

Some hotel robots have recently revealed that they’re not quite cut out for the job but others around the globe are busy bringing towels, serving dinner and even delivering surprises

HANGZHOU, CHINA - DECEMBER 17: An intelligent robot serves at Alibaba's first future hotel on December 17, 2018 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China. Guests living in Alibaba's future hotel can walk into guest rooms, fitness center or restaurant via facial recognition system. Robots are also available in the hotel to provide recorded voice messages and accompany guests during their stay. (Photo by Zhang Yin/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
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Earlier this month, the world’s best-known robot hotel decided to get rid of over half of its mechanical workforce. The Henn-na Hotel in Japan fired 123 robots after they failed to carry out basic tasks and started annoying customers.

The hotel in Japan’s Nagasaki Prefecture began by removing all the doll-shaped Churi advisers from each of the hotel rooms after guests complained she wasn't even able to answer simple questions. The dinosaur receptionists who were responsible for check-in also got the boot when they couldn't handle the task of photocopying guest passports. And the hotel’s baggage robots were shown the door as they only seemed able to function when the weather outside was perfect.

Despite these mechanical problems, Henn-na Hotel is keeping the rest of its robot staff who'll work alongside humans for a smoother guest experience. And there are plenty of other hotels around the world where robots are also on the roster.

FlyZoo Hotel, China 

At the recently opened AI-powered FlyZoo hotel in Hangzhou, the experience is very much a machine-fuelled one. Guests register at the self check-in machine where a scan of each person's face is taken. That's then used as facial recognition to allow guests access to their rooms, the elevators and the health and fitness suites. In each of the rooms, a tiny robot butler called Tmall Genie can close the curtains, turn on the television or order room service. Owned by the ecommerce group Alibaba, guests can also shop by using an app to take pictures of things that they like the look of in the hotel, and they'll be delivered and waiting for them to purchase upon checkout.

Hotel Jen by Shangri-La, Singapore 

The Shangri-La's Jen Singapore hotels have two robots on staff, one at each of its properties in the Lion City. Jeno and Jena live in the hotel lobby and are dressed in blue and pink tuxedos. They keep themselves busy delivering room service to guests, whether that's dinner, towels or buckets of ice. Fitted with sensors so that they avoid obstacles, the robots move at 2.5 kilometres per hour and have helpful information panels directing customers on how to get their goods from them when they arrive at the room door.

Edward the chatbot will be your best friend at Radisson Blu Edwardian Vanderbilt in London. 

Radisson Blu Edwardian Vanderbilt, United Kingdom

In London’s South Kensington, the Radisson Blu Edwardian Vanderbilt is a Grade-II listed townhouse that’s making use of AI to keep it firmly in the future. Guests staying here can make friends with Edward, the hotel’s chatbot. Once you have his digits, send Edward a text and he’ll be ready to help with anything from room service requests to what the weather’s going to be like. Edward is the perfect texter — he’s always online and responds almost instantly to your messages. He can also get the hotel’s human staff to do something for you or give you a call if you'd rather speak to a person.

Ubergossene Alm Resort, Austria

A robot might be the last thing you’d expect to find in Austria’s valleys but at the foot of Mount Hochkonig in the town of Dienten, Pepper the robot is a proud employee at the Ubergossene Alm Resort. Usually situated at reception, Pepper wears a traditional Austrian dirndl dress and is always on hand to greet guests and recommend excursions or events. She's even been known to crack a few jokes or keep little guests amused with her entertainment.

Hotel EMC2, Chicago

Cleo and Leo live in Chicago’s Hotel EMC2. Dubbed an ‘art and science’ boutique hotel, the two on-call robots look sharp in their silver jackets and are always ready to help customers out by bringing whatever they need right to their hotel room. If you’ve forgotten your toothbrush, Cleo can bring you one. If you need room service, place your order and wait for Leo to deliver it. You can even ask the robots to 'surprise you' and will get something that the robot thinks you might need - which can be anything from a do not disturb sign to a free voucher for breakfast.