If you call room service for a toothbrush or a midnight snack at InterContinental Group's Crowne Plaza San Jose - Silicon Valley, you may be in for a real treat. Instead of a knock on the door from room service, you'll be greeted by Dash, a robotic delivery attendant created by AI entrepreneur Savioke.
Although Savioke introduced similar robots in several of SPG's Aloft hotels, Crowne Plaza's Dash serves more than his predecessors, visiting 300 rooms and suites at the large, metropolitan hotel in Santa Clara, California. The impact of robotic delivery is still unclear, but its potential to disrupt the hospitality industry is evident. Savioke's project received more than $15 million in funding in early 2016 with hopes of expanding robotic room service nationwide. Currently, this technology is only in 12 hotels in the United States, although other countries have adopted various takes on robotic hotel experiences with great early success (such as automated baggage sorting and delivery in Dubai, or sleeper pods in Tokyo).
Seeing Dash in action is impressive. The 3-foot tall robot can navigate between floors, operate elevators, and communicate with guests via a digital touch screen on his "face." The system allows staff to deploy a robot to deliver towels, amenities, or room service at the touch of a button instead of performing these tasks themselves. This frees hotel staff to focus on more complex problems, allows hospitality owners to scale back on human costs, increases efficiency and accuracy of deliveries, and streamlines back of house procedures. Aside from the obvious novelty factor of robotic room service, Dash represents a unique evolution in the service industry.
As the global hospitality market becomes more digitally driven, guests' expectations are shifting. Digital check in, keyless or mobile phone room entry, and digitized concierge services were just the beginning of this new trend. In many countries, the presence of robots or automated hotel functions are a symbol of luxury, as is the case with Dubai's robotic bag caddies. However, some industry leaders, such as Steve Choe, general manager of the InterContinental Los Angeles - Century City, expresses early concern:
With robots, you don't get personalized service. Those are the touches people still want, according to his remarks in the L.A. Times.
It's hard to predict whether the global market will embrace robots as the new gold-standard in service, or if they will continue to crave the white-glove, human interactions of the past. It's unsurprising that technologically savvy epicenters such as Dubai or the Silicon Valley are early adopters of this trend ... but what about more traditional or developing regions? As these robotic helpers become more nuanced and detailed, more traditional markets may begin to open up to this revolutionary technology.
In looking at Pew Research Center's adoption trends for mobile devices such as smartphones, e-readers, and laptops, we believe it's not a matter of "if" the hospitality industry will successfully adopt robotic help, but "when." From the early 1990's through today, nearly 92% of Americans have adopted a cellphone - technology that seemed as futuristic as robotic room service just three decades ago. While Dash still seems like a character out of Wall-E or the Jetsons, it won't take long for robotic room service to become the new normal. There is considerable buzz about these robots' potential and guests often express delight and excitement interacting with these streamlined services.
So the next time you call room service, imagine what it would be like to be greeted by Dash rather than your favorite bellhop. The future is near.