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CES 2018: Delivery Robots Are Full-Time Employees at a Las Vegas Hotel

Checking in on Savioke’s Relay robots in Las Vegas—not on the CES floor but at the Renaissance Hotel, where they are hard at work

2 min read
Savioke's relay robot 'Elvis' at CES 2018.
Photo: Tekla Perry

On the floor of CES, LG’s CLOi service robots got a lot of attention. But just across the parking lot from the Las Vegas Convention Center, two service robots—both Relay robots from San Jose–based Savioke—are quietly at work. These robots, tagged Elvis and Priscilla, are full-time employees of the Renaissance Hotel, and they aren’t getting a lot of attention.

Gif of a person casually brushing the robot as they pass at CES 2018.Gif: Steve Cousins/IEEE Spectrum

When Priscilla navigated through the crowded lobby to make a delivery on Wednesday, only a few people pulled out cameras. Others casually brushed by, sometimes giving it a little pat as they passed.

I checked in with Savioke founder Steve Cousins, hotel manager Carl Kruger, and robot Elvis, to find out how these robotic workers are doing. (Elvis was taking a break from his duties for media meetings, but Kruger wasn’t sure how long Elvis could hang out. “The front desk wants him back,” Kruger said.)

Cousins says Savioke currently has robots in 70 hotels, including the two at the Renaissance.

“Guests are almost shocked” to see a robot at the door, Kruger reports. “We don’t tell them ahead of time that a robot will be making their delivery. They typically open the door and freeze for a moment. Then they’ll read the instructions, push a button—and often giggle.”

These armless robots can’t actually knock. Instead, they robo-call (pun intended) the hotel room and tell the occupant that a delivery is waiting at the door. Elevators are also a challenge—one of the hotel elevators has been adapted to allow the robots to communicate with it wirelessly.

A look inside the robot shows towels and a razor.Photo: Tekla Perry

“We have them send up towels, toothpaste, the newspaper, and room service,” Kruger says. He thinks they are at least as fast—if not faster—than human workers. And, he says, the front desk employees, who are responsible for getting things to guests quickly, love them.

Both Kruger and Cousins were thrilled about how well the robots were handling the extreme crowds that CES brings to hotels.

“Priscilla is doing surprisingly well in the crowd. She lets people pass, goes around them—sometimes they give her a pat when she goes by, like you would pat a dog,” Cousins says.

And the robots are developing a fan base. “One little girl and her mom came down to the front desk and asked for Priscilla,” Kruger said, “a day after she’d done a delivery to their room. The little girl just wanted to say hello.”

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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