Last year at CES, LG introduced a bunch of new robots because, as near as we could tell, LG figured that robots were cool so they'd better make some robots or something. The most photogenic (and smallest) was Hub, which bore a striking resemblance to Jibo, but we also met two burly service robots designed to work at airports. For CES 2018, LG is adding three more robots to the CLOi (that's pronounced KLOH-ee, obviously) family. New this year are the Serving Robot, Porter Robot, and Shopping Cart Robot, "developed for commercial use at hotels, airports, and supermarkets," and it's definitely not a coincidence that they're just in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, where LG is also based.
From the press release:
The purpose of the Serving Robot is to deliver meals and drinks to guests and customers at hotels and airport lounges quickly and efficiently. The robot can deliver food or refreshments around the clock and with its built-in sliding tray, present the tray to the customer for easy removal. Once the delivery is confirmed, the Serving Robot makes its way back on its own.
Designed to deliver luggage to guests’ rooms, the Porter Robot minimizes the inconvenience that may result from slow service and long wait times during a hotel stay. The Porter Robot can also handle express check-in and check-out service and take care of payment, allowing busy guests to check out and have their luggage delivered to a waiting car in a fraction of the time.
LG is also applying its robotics know-how to improve the shopping experience at premium supermarkets. With the help of LG’s Shopping Cart Robot, customers can scan items using a barcode reader on the robot to view product prices and see their complete shopping list on the face display. The robot can also guide shoppers to the products they select on a smartphone app.
LG’s airport cleaning robot at CES 2017 Photo: Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum
I'm not entirely convinced that robots like these are really all that practical, yet—the CLOi family looks very, very expensive, and they're doing the sorts of jobs that, in general, humans can do much more reliably and efficiently. And human labor is still super cheap. I think that the cleaning robot seems pretty legit (and I absolutely love the way it looks), in that it could plausibly offer tangible value in the same way that a Roomba does. As for the rest of them, I'm skeptical. The airport guide could easily be replaced with a kiosk, the serving robot and shopping cart robot both seem like they'd be frustratingly slow in any sort of crowded environment, and the porter robot can only carry one bag, which is not what you need a porter for. It will check you in or out, too, but odds are if you're in a hotel with a porter robot, you can probably just do that on your phone anyway.
It's tempting to compare LG's robots to other service robots like Savioke's Relay, but Relay is almost certainly far less expensive, and Savioke themselves will tell you that a significant part of its value is in the novelty and engagements it offers hotel guests. The CLOi robots seem like they're probably similar, at least in that respect. Our guess is that LG isn't expecting that these robots will be a commercial success, and we wouldn't be surprised if they weren't offered commercially, ever. Instead, LG will place them in airports and hotels just in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics, and even if they don't actually accomplish a whole heck of a lot, people will still be like "oh hey, LG makes cool robots now."
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Evan Ackerman is the senior writer for IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, Automaton. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and emerging technology, covering conferences and events on every single continent except Antarctica (although he remains optimistic). In addition to Spectrum, Evan's work has appeared in a variety of other online publications including Gizmodo and Slate, and you may have heard him on NPR's Science Friday or the BBC World Service if you were listening at just the right time. Evan has an undergraduate degree in Martian geology, which he almost never gets to use, and still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In his spare time, he enjoys scuba diving, rehabilitating injured raptors, and playing bagpipes excellently.