Friday, February 26, 2021

Robots on reception: South African hotel turns to android staff to beat pandemic

If the hotel receives a guest with Covid-19 symptoms, the robots could be deployed instead of humans as a precaution.

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Staff at Hotel Sky in Johannesburg’s wealthy Sandton district adhere to strict pandemic protocols, wearing masks and physically distancing from guests as much as possible.

All, that is, except their three newest staff members who can’t fall ill with human diseases.

Robot hospitality is not new – Japanese hotels have been deploying them for years and several robot-staffed Tokyo hotels are now using them to serve guests with mild Covid-19 symptoms in their rooms.

But Hotel Sky, which opened this year, is the first in Africa to use robot receptionists and cyborg concierges, a concept that could cause a stir in a country with one of the continent’s worst jobless rates.

Unemployment is over 30%, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address last Thursday.

“It’ll never replace people, but I think it’s the future,” Paul Kelley, Hotel Sky managing director, told Reuters.

The androids deliver room service, provide travel information and can transfer up to 300kg of luggage from the lobby to the rooms and vice-versa.

If the hotel receives a guest with Covid-19 symptoms, the robots could be deployed instead of humans as a precaution.

Steve Pinto, CEO of CTRL Robotics, which supplies the androids, said they could also scan customers’ facial expressions to determine how happy they were.

Reaction to the robots has been mixed. Even highly intelligent robots don’t always “get” what you want.

“I think the world is moving towards this digital space, but we are not used to it,” hotel guest Ernest Mulenga said. “The human touch is still something that is appealing to me.”

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