by Megan Geuss, ArsTechnica
It’s easy to look at your smartphone and think you live in the future. But the past’s imagining of the future promised us a lot more robot butlers.
Robots have slowly made their way into the workplace via telepresence hardware like , but a company called Savioke recently completed a $15 million series A funding round that will allow it to expand its operations for building the Relay robot—a hospitality-focused ‘bot that brings towels, toothpaste, and Starbucks to guests’ room.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Savioke has 12 Relay robots in hotels in the US and is looking to expand.
When a guest requests extra towels or sundries, hotel staff can fill the 3-foot robot with the necessary items, punch in the guest’s room number, and the robot wirelessly calls the elevator. It rolls up to the room using Wi-Fi and 3D cameras to navigate and calls the phone in the guest’s room when it arrives outside their door. When the Relay completes its mission, it returns to its charging dock.
The manager of a Residence Inn on Century Boulevard in Los Angeles told the Times that the robot, which the hotel has called Wally, is wildly popular with guests, who sometimes call to order things from the front desk just so they can get a visit from the robot.
The Residence Inn manager asserted that the Relay wouldn’t take jobs away from employees but instead free up their time for other tasks.
Savioke says its primary focus has been robots in hospitality sectors, using seed money from Google Ventures to get off the ground, but it’s looking to expand to other service sectors. In a press release it published in January (PDF), the company said its Relay robots has made more than 11,000 guest deliveries in 2015 and recently started delivering Starbucks coffee from the lobby. The most common item delivered? Toothpaste.
Older hotels generally struggle automating parts of their business, but newer hotels are better equipped to integrate robots. Of course, the closest analogy for Relay’s work is possibly Japan’s “Weird Hotel” in Nagasaki, where guests can interact with a robot dinosaur and the front desk, check in via touch-screen kiosks, and have robot porters carry their luggage.
Other companies have experimented with automating more complicated services, like cooking. Moley Robotics in the UK has created a giant robotic apparatus that can cook crab bisque—as long as the ingredients are pre-proportioned and placed in the correct position.