Robots to serve guests in Japanese hotel

The world's first robot hotel is being planned for a theme park in Japan

Guests checking into a new hotel close to the Japanese city of Nagasaki this summer may find themselves complaining that the service is just a little... robotic.

In a paradigm-shifting development, the hotel in question, the Henn-na Hotel, will be partially staffed by what are termed “actroid" androids – remarkably human-like robots who will be able to greet, carry luggage to rooms, make cups of coffee – and even smile.

The development, in a theme park, does not come as a surprise in a country which has long been at the forefront of technological innovation and which some years ago introduced Asimo, the planet’s most advanced humanoid robot capable of running, walking, waving and kicking a football.

Actroid androids have been developed by Osaka University and manufactured by Kokoro, a branch of the company that licenses Hello Kitty. First unveiled in 2003, the model has been steadily refined with the current generation consisting mainly of robots that have been given the features (and mannerisms) of a young Japanese woman who, in addition to speaking (in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English), will be able to make hand gestures, reciprocate eye movements.

Three of the uniformed ‘actroids’ will serve as reception staff at the Henn-na Hotel, scheduled to open in July. Alongside them will be four service and porter robots, an industrial robot serving as a cloak-room attendant and several robots whose primary task will be to clean.

The hotel will be located within Huis Ten Bosch, a theme park just outside the southern city of Nagasaki which seeks to recreate the life of a typically Dutch town, complete with Dutch-style architecture. And in addition to the actroid members of staff, guests will have the option of using facial-recognition software instead of room keys.

All this super advanced technology will of course come at a price – a lower price. The minimum room rate at the Henn-na Hotel will be ¥7,000 (about £40), and although guests will find the price increase as people bid for the rooms online, the rate for a night’s stay is likely to be capped well below the rates at the three other hotels at the theme park (which start around ¥20,000 to ¥30,000).

The cheaper rates will be possible because the use of robots and power-saving equipment such as LED lights and renewable energy are all expected to reduce operating costs.

And if the experiment is successful, expect more where that came from. Following the opening of the 72-room Henn-na Hotel, there are plans to open a similar-sized robot-powered facility in 2016.

But there are still bound to be lots of travellers who say that something about all this does not compute – and that nothing quite replaces contact with real people. Possibly with that in mind - and for old time’s sake - in addition to the robots at the Henn-na Hotel, there will be 10 human members of staff.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/japan/

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