Alibaba Group unveils its first 'future hotel'

China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba Group has unveiled its first “future hotel,” also known as “Flyzoo Hotel,” in Hangzhou, China, according to local media reports. The unmanned hotel marks the company’s entrance into the Internet of Things sector.
The hotel’s operation relies on smart interactive technologies, particularly facial recognition. A 1-meter high robot serves as a receptionist, remembering guests by using facial recognition technology. The hotel also uploads guest details to the country’s national public security system via a machine located in the lobby. FlyZoo still employs humans—to run housekeeping.

Wang Qun, CEO of the Alibaba FlyZoo Hotel, told TechNode that the hotel is 1.5 times more efficient than its peers thanks to its upgraded hotel management system capability. He said the range of digital solutions Alibaba has brought to FlyZoo is evidence of the group’s new approach to “empowering” industry.

Robots can be found everywhere in the hotel, and they guide guests by providing recorded voice messages and accompanying them during their stay. Guests also can control indoor temperatures, lighting intensity, household appliances through their voices.

The hotel is equipped with an artificial-intelligence management system called the "Tmall Genie." The interactive assistant can carry out a number of voice-activated tasks, from ordering groceries and roomservice to changing the television channel and closing the curtains.

“The new AI system will help to improve the management efficiency of the hotel by reducing more than half of the labor forces,” Qun told China Daily.

The furniture and other items in the hotel can be purchased merely by taking photos through a designated app.

Flyzoo Hotel also has seven themed rooms, each of which is able to create a better living experience for its guests, the hotel claims.

Alibaba's artificial intelligence arm A.I. Labs created a hotel robot two months ago that will be used in the hotel. The porter-tron is capable of anything from delivering meals to guests and returning laundry—while interacting with customers through voice command prompts, touch and hand gestures.

“Alibaba A.I. Labs’ robot is the next step in the evolution toward smart hotels,” GM of Alibaba A.I. Labs Lijuan Chen said in a statement. “In addition, it is solving pain points in the hotel sector, such as enhancing service efficiency, with our leading AI technologies. The robot will be the ultimate assistant for hotel guests who want everything quickly and conveniently at their fingertips.”

Hotels staffed by robots is not a new concept in the industry, but it's certainly still rare.

In February, travel agency H.I.S. Company was eyeing an ambitious plan to build eight more robot-staffed Henn na Hotels, according to the Japan Times.

The “Henn na” name is a play on words, using a Chinese character that means both strange and change. The hotel has found success employing robots as a way to both draw in business and reduce staffing costs. The newest Henn na hotel, which opened earlier this year in Tokyo, has already demonstrated the cost-saving potential of employing robotic staff. Originally 30 staff members were assigned to work at the 140-room hotel, but the automated check-in system allowed for the company to reduce the number of staff to seven working on rotating shifts.

The original Henn na Hotel opened in July 2015 in Nagasaki, Japan. It is run almost entirely by machinery, including the check-in receptionist (an android for guests who speak Japanese; a dinosaur for English-speakers) and the porter that helps guests with their luggage—in this case, an automated trolley.