Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba launches hotel porter robot

The robot, slightly under 3 feet in height, moves at a speed of up to about 3 feet per second. Photo credit: A.I. Labs

Chinese commerce firm Alibaba's artificial intelligence arm A.I. Labs has created a hotel robot that also can be used in hospitals, restaurants and offices. The porter-tron will be capable of anything from delivering meals to guests and returning laundry—while interacting with customers through voice command prompts, touch and hand gestures.

The Space Egg robot porter was unveiled at a computing conference in Hangzhou, China, last week, and it will start work at its first hotel in the city next month.

“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.”

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After its deployment in October, the new robot will be able to deliver food or laundry to guests, offering a glimpse into the future of hotel service, reports TTG Asia. Guests can talk to the robot, using voice commands, touch and hand gestures. Its answers are powered by AliGenie, the software behind the Tmall Genie smart speaker made by Alibaba A.I. Labs.

The robot, slightly under 3 feet in height, moves at a speed of up to about 3 feet per second. It is cased in aluminum and features multisense data functionality, along with parallel computing, for fast responses. Onboard are a semantic map, an autonomous navigation system to identify and dodge obstacles, a communications system to control elevators and facial-recognition technology for ID verification.

Where Alibaba’s creation stands out is its functionality and provenance. For a start, the bot is integrated with the company’s artificial intelligence assistant, Tmall Genie, which does a similar job as Alexa in Alibaba’s own smart speakers. With Genie integrated into hotel rooms, guests can use voice commands to order items, which are then delivered by Space Egg. Space Egg might just be the start, too. Speaking to The Verge by email, a spokesperson for Alibaba said the company was working on future variations, including a Space Shuttle for delivering medicines in hospitals. The spokesperson said Alibaba was looking for ways to customize its robots for new environments.

The global market for service robots is on the rise, says the International Federation of Robotics. It’s seen growing between 20 percent and 25 percent from 2018 and 2020, with sales during that period totaling around $27 billion for the professional service segment.

The Space Egg is the latest robot we’ve seen unveiled in recent years. There’s also Botlr, a “robot butler” built by Savioke for hotels. Earlier this year, LG introduced a line of concept robots called CLOi. Hilton’s robot concierge Connie also has been around for some time without widespread expansion. In February of this year, Henn na Hotels announced it would open eight more robot-staffed hotels across Japan on top of the one hotel that opened in 2015.

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