You are definitely not in a science-fiction movie with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots, but it feels exactly like one as AI and robots serve guests at Alibaba-owned FlyZoo Hotel in Hangzhou, some 170 km southwest of Shanghai, China.
Flyzoo Hotel, the first futuristic hotel of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., employs black disc-shaped robots about a meter in height to deliver food and drop off fresh towels, along with their human hotel staff.
The 290-room hotel was formally opened to the public in December last year. It serves as an incubator for the technology that Alibaba wants to sell to the hotel industry in the future.
This first high-tech, futuristic feature hotel also showcases the power of artificial intelligence as it operates without a receptionist and a concierge. Rather than employing humans it uses robots who can do a myriad of tasks such as greeting guests, helping with check-in, finding the room, following guests around, taking orders, helping to buy groceries, ordering meals, and picking up laundry through voice command, touch, or simple gestures.
Alibaba said that the robots are part of a suite of high-tech tools that drastically cut the hotel’s cost of human labor and eliminates the need for guests to interact with other people.
Mr Andy Wang, CEO of Alibaba Future Hotel Management, said “It’s all about the efficiency of the service and the consistency of service because the robots are not disturbed by human moods. Sometimes, we say we are not in the mood, but the system and the robot will always be in the mood.”
China tolerates intrusive data-sharing technology and this is increasingly common that people do not have issues with this. The hotel project is an experiment that tests the comfort levels of consumers with unmanned commerce.
Guests will be welcomed with softly-lit white panelled walls in the interior like what is seen in Hollywood-movie spaceships. Customers can check into the hotel at a podium that scan their faces, as well as passports or other ID. For Chinese nationals, they can check in ahead of time by scanning their faces with their smartphones.
Going to the rooms, guests’ faces will be scanned again by elevators to check which floor they can access. No worries about room keys and cards, as the face-recognition software opens hotel doors.
Flyzoo Hotel automates procedures even inside the room. There are no switches and knobs. Voice command technology control the appliances, including adjusting the light and changing room temperature, closing the curtains.
If hungry, guests can also order room service with the technology.
The hotel also boasts taller capsule-shaped robots in their restaurant. These robots deliver food that guests have ordered via the FlyZoo app. A large robotic arm that can mix more than 20 different types of cocktails can also be seen.
Charges are automatically added to the room bill automatically through facial recognition cameras.
Checking out from the hotel is simply done by pressing a button on the app. This triggers for the room to lock and automatically charges the guests through Alibaba’s online wallet.
Mr Wang assured customers that upon checking out, facial scan data is immediately erased from Alibaba’s systems.
However, he also acknowledged that FlyZoo still had plenty of issues that needed upgrading such as some of the services are exclusive only to those with Chinese national ID.
Alibaba e-commerce is also offered to guests through Flyzoo App, in which guests can take pictures of furniture or other items in the hotel that they would like to have and add them quickly and efficiently to their shopping cart online.
The initial reception from the guests was encouraging, he said, relating to how customers react when they experience the robot and the voice butlers.
Robots did not entirely replace humans in this hotel, as there are still human chefs and human cleaners. There is also the reception staff assisting guests who do not want their faces scanned and want to have the conventional way of checking in and using key cards.
The hotel’s name – FlyZoo – comes from a pun in Chinese for ‘it’s a must to stay here’. Room fees start from 1,390 yuan ($278) a night.
This futuristic hotel is not the only project of Alibaba utilizing automation and robots. Hema, the company’s grocery stores, have been well received in 100 branches all over China.