OM in the News: Japanese Hotel Lets Robots do the Heavy Lifting
The English-speaking receptionist is a vicious-looking dinosaur, and the one speaking Japanese is a female humanoid, writes The Guardian (July 15, 2015). “If you want to check in, push one,” the dinosaur says. The visitor punches a button on the desk, and types in information on a touch panel screen. From the front desk to the porter that’s an automated trolley taking luggage up to the room, the Henn na Hotel in southwestern Japan, is manned almost totally by robots to save labor costs. The hotel uses facial recognition technology, instead of the standard electronic keys, to register the digital image of the guest’s face during check-in. The reason? Robots aren’t good at finding keys if people happen to lose them.
A giant robotic arm, usually seen in manufacturing, is encased in glass quarters in the corner of the lobby. It lifts one of the boxes stacked into the wall and puts it out through a space in the glass, where a guest can place an item in it to use as a locker. The arm will put the box back into the wall until the guest wants it again. The system is called “robot cloak room.” The concierge is a robot with voice recognition that prattles breakfast and event information.
Japan is a world leader in robotics technology, and the government is trumpeting robotics as a pillar of its growth strategy. Robots have long been used here in manufacturing. But interest is also high in exploring the potential of robots in human interaction, including helping care for the elderly. Robotics is also key in the decommissioning of the three reactors in Fukushima.
Classroom discussion questions:
1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this robot-driven approach?
2. What can’t the robots do at the hotel?