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)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

Keep Reading ↓Show less