HomeTravelThese cute robots could deliver your next coffee

These cute robots could deliver your next coffee

(CNN) — Trundling across the hallways of Hong Kong’s Cyberport innovation hub, the little Rice Robot is on a mission.

The stocky white cuboid resembles Star Wars’ R2D2 robotic in its construct, however has the wide-eyed expression of Pixar’s WALL-E. It’s delivering drinks to patrons of the HFT Life cafe in a compartment in its “head” which is unlocked by the client utilizing a PIN code despatched to their telephone.

While Rice’s operations on the cafe are restricted to distributing drinks, the compact robotic is already offering a variety of providers at venues in Hong Kong and Japan. Rice is deployed as a bellhop at Hong Kong’s Dorsett Wanchai resort, offering room service to visitors. In Tokyo, it delivers snacks to staff at SoftBank Group’s headquarters from the constructing’s 7-11 comfort retailer. Earlier this yr, Rice even made its TV debut on Cantonese drama series Communion, delivering coffee to a solid member.
Rice is a part of a brand new technology of sensible robots, able to navigating advanced and busy environments, together with elevators. Equipped with gentle sensors, depth cameras and ultrasound sensors to keep away from obstacles, Rice can maneuver freely round multi-story accommodations and buying facilities, says Viktor Lee, founder and CEO of Rice Robotics.

Customers obtain a PIN code, enabling them to open the hatch in Rice’s “head” to retrieve their drinks.

Rice Robotics

Describing Rice as “your friendly neighborhood robot,” Lee hopes it will possibly assist the hospitality sector fight labor shortages because the inhabitants ages, whereas interesting to the post-pandemic demand for heightened hygiene protocols.

“Even after COVID, people are paying a lot of attention to contact,” says Lee. He believes “this type of delivery robot will see steady growth in next five and 10 years.”

Pandemic robotic growth

With a background in logistics, Lee based Rice Robotics in 2019 to resolve the problem of “last-mile delivery.”

Supported by the Cyberport Incubation Programme, Lee and his group developed Rice, the primary of its three robots. Designed for delivering items, it may be utilized in healthcare, retail, logistics and hospitality.

The pandemic created new demand for service robots, with the market growing 12% in 2020 in response to the International Federation of Robotics. This opened up a brand new function for Rice: quarantine resort butler. In Hong Kong, strict rules have seen inbound vacationers quarantined for as much as three weeks, and accommodations have needed to give you new methods to attenuate human contact and stop cross-contamination.

The Dorsett Wanchai resort began utilizing Rice robots in June 2021. “It’s a great way to serve our guests and to maintain our service standards while adhering to social distancing and anti-pandemic measures,” says basic supervisor Anita Chan, including that suggestions from visitors has been constructive: “With its cute appearance, Rice Robot is especially loved by the kids.”

During the pandemic, the Dorsett Wanchai hotel in Hong Kong introduced a team of high-tech robots, including droids for cleaning and sanitizing, and Rice for contactless room service.

During the pandemic, the Dorsett Wanchai resort in Hong Kong launched a group of high-tech robots, together with droids for cleansing and sanitizing, and Rice for contactless room service.

Dorsett Wanchai

Lee says that throughout the pandemic, purchasers started asking about cleansing robots. His group responded by growing a second robotic, known as Jasmine, in simply eight weeks. Replacing Rice’s supply compartment with a tank of sanitizing resolution, Jasmine has two spray nozzles on her head to disperse disinfectant.

Lee created a brand new persona for Jasmine — which has already been deployed in malls, convention facilities and airports — by giving her cartoon eyebrows that furrow in a critical expression. “She has to go out and sanitize the whole place, and she doesn’t want anyone to get in her way,” says Lee.

The group’s third product, Portal, is a taller robotic with a contact display, two-way intercom and streaming cameras for patrolling public areas. As nicely as making deliveries, Portal can information guests in venues comparable to buying malls, convention facilities and hospitals.

Hospitable robots

While industrial robots are commonplace within the automotive, manufacturing and electronics sectors, till lately most service robots in hospitality had been used for novelty functions.

But the pandemic has modified that, says Kaye Chon, dean of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management on the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

In response to journey and social restrictions, “there was an exodus of employees in our industry,” says Chon. Combined with considerations about hygiene and a rising acceptance of sensible tech from youthful prospects, Chon sees robotics because the next step within the hospitality business’s “digital transformation.”

However, the know-how nonetheless has to beat some hurdles to realize the identical effectivity as industrial robots. Costs are nonetheless excessive for this know-how — Rice Robotics’ merchandise value from $9,000 per unit — and malls, accommodations, and eating places must be tailored to be robot-friendly, says Chon.

Staff additionally have to know easy methods to program the robots, a ability set that’s missing within the business. To treatment this, Chon helped devise a brand new “smart tourism” curriculum masking AI, robotics, and large knowledge, however says it’s going to take time for present college students to enter the workforce. “This is the way our industry is evolving,” he provides.

Portal, Rice Robotics' third product, is taller with a touch screen, two-way intercom and streaming cameras for patrolling public areas — such as Captain C, pictured at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Center.

Portal, Rice Robotics’ third product, is taller with a contact display, two-way intercom and streaming cameras for patrolling public areas — comparable to Captain C, pictured on the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Center.

Rice Robotics

Rice Robotics has created a fleet administration app for customers, and helps purchasers make infrastructural adjustments, comparable to programming the robots and elevator programs to speak with one another. The startup additionally affords its robots on a month-to-month subscription service, beginning at $800 per unit, which incorporates technical and on-site assist.

And whereas robots may also help to attenuate contact between folks, they nonetheless must be sanitized by workers between makes use of, says Chon.

Chon sees nice alternative for robots to carry out easy, repetitive duties in funds and mid-range accommodations — however the know-how continues to be a great distance from replicating the “small, personal touches” that high-end luxurious properties promote themselves on, he provides.

Rapid enlargement

Rice Robotics is not the one participant within the service robotic area. Danish firm UVD Robots gives robotic butlers to Yotel’s resort in Boston. US-based Relay Robotics (previously Savioke) has been constructing supply bots for accommodations since 2013, and Richtech Robotics’ Matradee robotic assists human waitstaff as an autonomous serving tray.
However, Rice’s cute facial options add to its enchantment — an intentional a part of the design, says Lee. Studies have discovered that human-like options improve affinity in direction of robots, making Rice’s aesthetic a key a part of its effectiveness within the hospitality sector for manufacturers hoping to make a very good impression on prospects.
Lee says robots like Rice can help reduce the cost of "last-mile delivery" and increase efficiency.

Lee says robots like Rice may also help scale back the price of “last-mile delivery” and improve effectivity.

Rice Robotics

Rice Robotics has expanded quickly throughout the pandemic, from an three-person group in 2019 to 26. Now based mostly within the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park, the corporate opened an workplace in Japan in 2021 to assist handle its rising shopper base there. With a quickly getting old inhabitants, Lee says robots are important to assist Japan’s retail and hospitality sectors.

Beyond hospitality, Lee sees robots changing into extra widespread in our houses, too. In a latest mission with Japan’s postal service, a number of Rice models had been deployed in a high-rise constructing to assist deliver parcels and mail to residents’ doorways.

“Robots are not taking people’s jobs, but rather trying to help keep society moving,” says Lee, including: “Robots are the future.”

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