Will hotel guests interact with a robot concierge? Hilton seems to think so. The company is piloting one such project at the Hilton McLean in Virginia.
Unlike Japan's Henn-na Hotel, which is entirely staffed by robots, Hilton's hospitality machine will stay behind the concierge desk. Named "Connie" in a nod to Hilton founder Conrad Hilton, Yahoo Tech reported that the miniature robot will greet guests and answer questions about the hotel, local attractions and recommend dining options.
Connie came about as part of a project between Hilton and IBM's Watson supercomputer (famous for its appearance on "Jeopardy"). The robot is limited to vocal interaction (it's not checking any guests into rooms or interacting with the hotel back end), but it uses a combination of Watson's technology, such as Dialog, Speech to Text, Text to Speech and Natural Language Classifier to speak with guests.
According to Ars Technica, Connie is designed to improve itself through interactions with guests. It does this by "remembering" frequent questions and fine-tuning recommendations over time.
"This project with Hilton and WayBlazer represents an important shift in human-machine interaction, enabled by the embodiment of Watson's cognitive computing," Rob High, chief technology officer of Watson said in a statement. "Watson helps Connie understand and respond naturally to the needs and interests of Hilton's guests—which is an experience that's particularly powerful in a hospitality setting, where it can lead to deeper guest engagement."
Jim Holthouser, EVP of global brands for Hilton Worldwide, told Fortune that Connie's inclusion in a Hilton property is not part of any large robotics initiative by the brand, but rather an example of the company experimenting with technology to see how it affects the guest experience.
"In the hotel business we’re in a mature, competitive environment and innovation is key," Holthouser said. "But it has to be purposeful innovation. We’re not out to test things to be gimmicky and cute. That buys you nothing at the end of the day in market like this."
If trends are any indication, hotels are clearly intrigued by robotics. Last year the Aloft Silicone Valley debuted a robotic butler, Botlr, designed to deliver items to guestrooms on request. It was the second such machine for the Aloft brand. However, the response to robots internationally has been mixed. In a poll conducted at the end of 2015 it was found that just one-fifth of Britons surveyed said they would prefer to stay in a robot-run hotel, meaning the human element, unsurprisingly, still has a place in hospitality.