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Rise of the Robo-Hotel

Can artificial intelligence deliver? Better than you think—ask the hospitality industry.


The Savioke robot can deliver toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste, as well as extra towels, blankets and pillows.

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A Relay robot from Savioke.

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Call downstairs. Order snacks and toiletries. Wait five minutes. Greet robot at door to retrieve items from a storage compartment in its head.

This is room service these days at the 122-room Hotel Trio in Healdsburg. The robot, made by San Jose company Savioke, looks like a Diaper Genie on wheels and has revolutionized delivery protocols at the Marriott-affiliated hotel. It navigates hallways and elevators with the help of cameras and sensors. It wows guests. And it simultaneously frees up hotel employees to perform other more important tasks.

“We like to joke that [the robot] is our hardest-working employee,” says Brooke Ross, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “Not only does it help our employees, it adds something special to the experience of staying here for guests.”

No one is quite sure who first thought of using robots for room service, but the gang at Savioke has certainly perfected the phenomenon. In less than five years, under the leadership of CEO Steve Cousins, the company has deployed its robots to more than 80 hotels, many in the Bay Area. They first appeared in the Aloft Cupertino, followed shortly by the Crowne Plaza in Silicon Valley. Today, travelers can find them at Aloft Chicago Mag Mile, Yotel in Boston and Vdara in Las Vegas, among others.

The use of robots to tackle tasks in the travel industry is becoming more commonplace. Dutch airline KLM recently employed a robot designed to help passengers carry bags, and cruise line Royal Caribbean has “bionic bartender” robots mixing cocktails on some ships.

Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group in San Francisco, says this growth is inevitable. “Ready or not, the robots are coming,” he says. “This is a part of travel that will see major growth in the years ahead.”

At Savioke, executives are already looking to determine what their robots can do next. The company has raised over $34 million and is placing its delivery robots in hospitals, as well as hotels. According to Lauren Schechtman, vice president of marketing and sales, Savioke developers are also rethinking additional tasks for its robots in the travel world. “There are so many repetitive, monotonous tasks that robots can do,” she says. “In a hotel, it makes sense to automate those mindless tasks and leave the valuable, people-focused jobs to the staff.”


Originally published in the May issue of San Francisco 

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