Collaborative robots and their place in the future of the ‘Smart Hotel’
By Stefano Bensi, General Manager, SoftBank Robotics EMEA
In recent years, the hospitality industry has been rapidly evolving and embracing new technologies to improve not only the guest experience, but the efficiencies of their operations internally. One of the most exciting developments in this space is the integration of robots and collaborative robots (cobots) within hotels. From automated check-ins, robotic room service deliveries and cobotic cleaning solutions, these technological advancements have been transforming the hospitality industry and redefining expectations and job roles. What is now being described as the ‘smart-hotel’, integrated technologies are rewriting the narrative of how the hospitality industry approaches its day to day. With a growing number of wider industries embracing the future of collaborative robotic work, the cobotic global market is foreseen to progress from a £793 million market in 2020 to an estimated £5789 billion by 2026 as reported by Market Data Forecast.
The hospitality industry is facing one of its biggest revolutions in recent memory, and the best news is, it’s a positive one.
There are many variations of the hospitality and smart-hotel oriented cobots. One of these that can produce one of the most notable benefits to customers and staff alike is the cleaning cobot. These can come in different variety of shapes sizes and perform a variation of automated similar tasks that a lot of housekeeping or custodial staff complete on a day-to-day basis. Traditionally, cleaning staff would have to manually clean the public areas around the hotel. Corridors, lobbies, conference rooms and more. However, with the advancement of cobots, hotels can now automate this process and reduce the workload on their staff from these spaces. With this, cleaning cobots provide a faster, more efficient, and cost-effective way to keep hotel spaces clean and hygienic.
Cobots have no intention of replacing jobs, but rather relieving staff of some of their more time intensive and labour heavy jobs, allowing them to redistribute their time into more important or enriching tasks that will not only help elevate the hotel guest experience, but improve their own quality of life with the tasks they undertake at work.
By using cobots, hotels can increase their cleaning efficiencies by using data generated and led patterns that can monitor and target high footfall areas that would require a higher level and frequency of cleaning. Using this deeper insight into the amalgamated patterns, the accommodation of more guests around hotel spaces, and the faster turnaround of certain spaces can happen.
SoftBank Robotics is the creators of Whiz, an autonomous vacuum sweeper. Using AI, the cobot maps out its environment to deliver a deep clean on the move. Introducing something like Whiz into an environment like a hotel can redefine the way that operationally staff are stationed and what their day to day looks like. As consumer and guest expectations grow of those in the service industry, automated robotic solutions such as these can be an answer to how workers allocate their time and prioritise the guest experience over time-intensive and labour driven tasks.
Collaboration not Replacement
There are some challenges, however. Fears exist that are associated with the use of cobots. One of the main concerns is the potential for job displacement or concerning the current cohort of workers, as these robotic solutions are able to perform many of the tasks traditionally done by human staff members. However, it is important to note that these machines are not intended to replace human staff members entirely. The name cobot or collaborative robot by its very nature describes that these machines are there to help, support and be collaborative alongside the current cohort.
It is important for businesses to provide proper training and education to workers to help them understand the benefits of cobots and how they can work collaboratively with them. Resistance to change is a very real and challenging barrier for some business leaders and managers to tackle. Cobots may require changes to existing workflows and processes, which can be disruptive to some workers. It is important for businesses to carefully plan the implementation of cobots and work with employees to minimise disruptions to their work and to help realise the benefit to all involved within the workforce.
This at its core is the ethos behind cobotic solutions. Reducing labour-intensive tasks and redistributing key important tasks to these staff members helps not only improve the quality of working life for the employees, but improve the efficiencies across the board of operations.
Post Pandemic Landscape
Coming out of the pandemic there has been a notable struggle to plug gaps in employment within the hospitality industry, adding growing pressure onto current staff, and leading to difficulties in recruitment as such. Cobots are here to relieve that pressure and plug some of the gaps in employment making certain roles more attractive due to the redefining of job titles and requirements, and providing the opportunity to upskill your current workforce due to their time-intensive tasks being relieved by the cobots. In the time that it could take for a service worker to deliver a drink or plate of food room service to a guest door, giving this task to an automated collaborative robot could free up the time of that human worker to assist with an immediate guest need or challenge that may have arisen.
In the post-pandemic world, both new and young prospective employees, and more seasoned workers, have all had their perspective and outlook on the place of work altered. Adding cobots into the equation can help leaders redefine and recategorize what roles in the hospitality industry look like, with the guarantee of a helping hand from cobotic solutions.
A Look to the Future
Looking to the future, automation within smart-hotels and the wider hospitality industry is becoming an ever-evolving and very real change. The expectations of both customers and staff alike will soon be catching up and taking over, so businesses are being rushed into this new smart age whether they’re ready or not. So, what can businesses do to be ready to facilitate and grow in this new age? Some may be apprehensive due to some of these very reasons. However, automated technology is here to offer a helping hand.
Most hotels already use some level of automation at a stage in their process, whether it be from automated check-in screens to help relive long queues as peak check-in times, or even pre-arrival with chatbots to assist with queries and FAQs. Apprehensions of expanding services are often overlooking the current level of automated day to day services everyone has become used too. While the term robot may have certain evoking images in people’s minds, technology has progressed greatly in the area of these collaborative machines and how humans work alongside them. Looking forward to the future, the way the hospitality industry has been changed and reshaped coming out of the pandemic, expectations have shifted both internally and externally facing. Allowing cobots to enter the place to work to help support and redefine what a hotel can be.