Need Towels? The Front Desk Is Sending a Robot Right Up

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Uniformed hotel maid holding stack of white towels, mid section 200020743-001 Vacation Mode V217 Uniformed hotel maid holding st
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By Justin Solomon

Look out, Rosie the Robot, Starwood Hotels' (HOT) Aloft brand has a taskmaster of its own.

His (or her?) name: ALO (pronounced "el-oh"), the chain's first Botlr (short for robotic butler.) Standing just under 3 feet tall, ALO comes dressed in a vinyl-collared butler uniform and will soon be on call all day and night to fulfill requests from guests.

Forget your toothpaste? Need more towels? How about a late-night chocolate bar? All guests of the hotel have to do is call the front desk, where staff will load up the Botlr with requested items, punch in the guest's room number and send it off to make the delivery, navigating hallways and even call for the elevator using WiFi.

At the Aloft in Cupertino, California, ALO is being fine-tuned for the Aug. 20 official launch of this pilot program. If successful, the Botlrs will appear in nearly 100 properties. "I think there is a chance that this could go enterprise-wide based on a successful pilot," said Brian McGuinness, senior vice president for the Aloft brand.

Helping People, Not Replacing Them

According to a study at the University of Oxford, 47 percent of U.S. employment is at risk of being replaced by computerization, but Starwood says these robots are not intended to replace any employees. Rather, they are there to free them up from small tasks, leaving them more time to deal with customers face to face. "It is certainly not replacing our staff but it is augmenting our ability to service our customers," McGuinness said.

"We applaud Starwood's program, which follows a long tradition of innovation in our industry," said Katherine Lugar, president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

The Botlr was designed and built by Sunnyvale, California, start-up Savioke, which in April announced a seed round of funding of $2 million from investors, including Google (GOOG) Ventures. Company CEO Steve Cousins said he sees a huge market for service robots. "There are all these places, hotels, elder care facilities, hospitals that have a few hundred robots maybe but no significant numbers and we think that's just a huge opportunity," he said.

Starwood Hotels, which is funding the pilot, has an exclusive deal with Savioke through the end of the year. The robots' cost was not made available, but Cousins said they will become more affordable as supply costs come down. The business model will be leasing the robots and charging a service fee, he said. "It's going to come in at a few thousand dollars, it's not going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars; it's not going to be tens of thousands of dollars," he said.


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Iselin007

We had over 600,000 manufacturing jobs in NJ but now we have less then 250 an that's stretching it because they count making pizzas and hamburgers as manufacturing!

August 13 2014 at 4:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Iselin007

As work is cheapend the demand for families drops the society becomes no frills just what can be afforded an thus less demand for anything.

August 13 2014 at 4:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Iselin007

The robots will collect dust as demand drops with employment and pay.

August 13 2014 at 4:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ilenedan2

Thirty years ago, similar robots delivered the mail to everyone at the very large office building I worked in, so this really is not new technology. I don't recall how they dealt with elevators, but overall they were very reliable and I don't recall that they put anyone out of work. They still needed mailroom personnel to sort the mail, put it onto the robots, and to direct the robots.

August 12 2014 at 10:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ilenedan2's comment
Iselin007

And today they have let go most US citizens from the office and hired foreign H1B visa workers from off shore.

August 13 2014 at 4:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dash.flash

We're going to see more of this kind of automation as a result of the socialists working more and more to force businesses to pay unskilled, entry-level workers wages that compete with skilled workers.

Employees are a commodity, just like any other. If that commodity is only worth $6 an hour, then that's all the job SHOULD pay. Artificially forcing wages to double creates inflation and a loss of jobs.

Add to that the administration's quest to give work permits to tens of millions of foreign trespassers - at a time when 21 million AMERICANS are struggling to find enough work to feed their families - and we can expect to see industries from fast food to the hospitality inductry using more and more automation.

August 12 2014 at 3:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to dash.flash's comment