R-Tourism

May 2015

Image Source: KUKA ROBOCoaster (concept by FlyingSaucer)

The Henn-na hotel will open its doors next summer at the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan. The hotel features the latest advanced technology, various roboticized services, and a facial recognition system that will replace room keys.

Salients

  • A robotic experience - The hotel will offer a much more ample experience of roboticized services than has been ever been available up to now in a single establishment. These will include the cleaning of rooms and reception and concierge services.

  • 10 robots on staff – From the outset the hotel will have 10 robots at its disposal, but hopes that in the coming years up to 90% of the services it offers will be carried out ​​by robots.

  • Affordable prices - The first building, which is scheduled to open next July, will consist of 72 rooms, with prices between $60 per night for a single room and $73 per night for a double. A second building, with another 72 rooms, is planned for 2016.

  • Actroids - The reception desk will be manned by "actroid" robots from the manufacturer Kokoro. These models mimic human appearance, behavior and gestures, and even simulate breathing. They can establish eye contact with customers, and speak Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English fluently​​.

Insights

  • R-Tourism -  There is as yet no robotics market specifically aimed at tourism, but, just as is happening in other professional sectors, it is expected that the arrival of robotics in this area will offer the tourism industry interesting new business opportunities, branching from the overall concept of R-Tourism, or Robo-Tourism: new or better services, novel experiences, customization and improvement of access to activities for different customer segments. These are just some of the elements that will go to create the future scenario for tourism assisted by robots. In the following paragraphs we describe several cases where robots are already being applied to these ends.

    

  • Industrial robots for entertainment - Over more than a decade already, the British company RoboCoaster has been putting industrial robotics technology to use in the entertainment and leisure fields. In collaboration with KUKA, the German manufacturer of industrial robots, the company has developed the RoboCoaster G1. It was certified for use by people in 2003 and has sold over 200 units as ride systems for amusement parks around the world. At the same time, the RoboCoaster robots have featured in numerous action movies, which is yet another sector offering business opportunities for robotics. Custom ride engineering and immersive media show environments are growth areas for the application of industrial robots, in combination with the most advanced audio-visual technology and 3D imaging.

  • Telepresence robots and teletourism - Several museums in the United States, Europe and Australia are experimenting with robots and telepresence to offer remote viewing of their collections. Museums are made accessible by these means to the disabled, the sick and the housebound, who could not visit them in any other way. While the democratization of access is a primary value of telepresence, it is not the only one, and telepresence robots can offer a range of new services. For example, the Chesster and Kasparov robots at the National Museum of Australia have different routes designed according to the schools curricula, and they can also customize their own tours for different users. Meanwhile the British Tate Gallery last year tried out its “After Dark” program, in which the person remotely using the robot could visit the display rooms in semi-darkness, after the museum closed its doors. The fact that these televisits also allow interaction with guides, experts and other visitors will no doubt open the way for other new and original activities to take place. Over no more than the next five years, all the principal museums in the world will probably offer some kind of activity facilitated by telepresence robots.

  • Exoskeletons and accessibility - The likely roles of exoskeletons and assistive devices in the tourism industry are closely linked to accessibility, in its different forms. One of these roles will be to allow elderly or disabled people, or those with weakened muscles, to carry out moderate physical activity with relative ease. For another, they will also provide new experiences in sports and adventure activities to people who have no such physical problems. This will result in a growth in the number of potential customers who will be able to take part in an increasing range of activities by using such aids. To take commercial advantage of this growth in interest will, however, require that exoskeletons and other such devices be more readily, and more cheaply, available to a much wider public: a process that lower prices thanks to 3D printing could speed up considerably. When this happens, it is likely that new companies specializing in offering such experiences will leverage the use of exoskeletons as a value differencial in the services they provide.

  • Guides and robotic assistants – Up until now, robot-guides and their protocols have had rather limited functionalities: ranging from simply being present on the premises and offering verbal information to interacting in simple ways with people through integrated screen interfaces. The first great challenge has been to get these assistive robots to move around in unstructured spaces shared with humans of all ages, and to be able to react to unforeseen events, while always ensuring people’s safety. Sensor technology, along with the power of current processors and improvements in machine-vision systems and natural language ability, already allow robots not only to be safe as they manoeuvre, but to be able to interact with people in richer, more intuitive ways as they do so. Such robots are beginning to make an appearance, experimentally, in the retail trade: as in the case of the OSHbot from Lowe, which can communicate with customers in multiple languages; or Pepper, from Softbank, which can recognize with whom it is talking, and remember their preferences in a subsequent encounter. Applying these skills to tourism services, in which personal attention is of the essence, seems a logical next step in the development of robots for this specific industry.

  • UAVs to promote tourism - Tourism New Zealand has found an original way to promote winter tourism on the country’s ski slopes. In collaboration with tour operators it has made available Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), popularly known as drones, which can take photos and short 8 seconds videos of the tourist-skiers. These tourists then have a personal souvenir of their skiing experience from an unusual perspective, which can be shared on social networks, using the hashtag #NZdronie. The community has a Twitter account and Facebook and Instagram pages, and this ensemble of images and video clips is a powerful marketing tool in its own right with which to promote local tourism. It has the additional advantage of being maintained by the customers themselves. The potential of aerial robots in tourist services looks promising: not only for "dronies" that amplify the concept of the "selfie" by making them possible from on high, but for the new applications that will undoubtedly emerge as countries firm up their air traffic regulations and allow the gradual introduction of drones to different industrial sectors, including tourism.

  • Positioning your country in this new map of the world - South Korea leads the list of countries that are striving to position themselves as leaders in this future technological and robotic tourism sector. RobotLand, the first theme park dedicated to robotics, is expected to open next year in Incheon, 30km from Seoul. The project, with a budget of $625 million, has the support of national and local governments and private investors. In addition to the theme park itself, the complex will also have a technology center dedicated to education and innovation, various research and industrial institutions, along with hotels, shopping centers and office buildings. RobotLand is a strategic investment project for South Korea, which sees in robotics an opportunity to revitalize its economy, and to generate industry, business and prosperity for the future.