A hotel in Sasebo, Japan, has a novel approach to cutting costs: robots run the hotel. The Henn na ("Weird") Hotel is part of an amusement park, and it opens to the public on Friday. The check-in process is done by robots (human-looking for Japanese speaking guests, and a dinosaur for English-speaking ones), an automated trolley takes luggage to rooms, a giant robotic arm stores boxes that are used as lockers, and a room service robot brings snacks.
The owner of the robot run-hotel, Hideo Sawada, said that the idea was not a gimmick but an attempt to reduce costs. The price of a night at the Henn na is 9,000 yen, or around $80, much cheaper than most hotels in Japan. Although robots do most of the work, some areas are still left up to humans. The extensive security system installed to make sure no one tries to run off with a robot is manned by humans. And while there is a lamp-sized robot in each room that can tell time and turn the lights on and off, humans still make the beds.
The robots come from a company called Kokoro, which has been in business since 2003 making what they call "actroid" robots, or human-seeming ones. They can respond to facial expressions, speak multiple languages, and mimic certain human behaviors. It's not the only business in Japan that uses robots: a humanoid robot assists customers at a bank in Tokyo, and a robot-themed restaurant also exists. There's even been a robot wedding.
It does bring up a long wondered idea, though: menial labor being automated. Most people who watched The Jestons as a child understand the concept, and things like self-checkouts, ATMs, and automated ordering screens at restaurants are easily visible examples of the idea. Robots have been assisting in surgery for long periods of time. Even vending machines are a simple application of the idea. But what happens to the people who work in hotels, restaurants, and banks? There's even a name for it: technological unemployment. The Industrial Revolution was the last large wave of technological unemployment, and in a world where robots run a hotel, the next wave may come soon. Ideas to solve the problem range from increased education to a guaranteed minimum income.
Right now, though, that's in the future. And the fact that robots run a hotel but still can't make the beds is at least some comfort that that day is still ahead.
[Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images]