Hotel owner Hideo Sawada said he wanted to run “the most efficient hotel in the world” by staffing it almost exclusively with robots. According to a new report, however, the hotel has laid off more than half of its bots for being inefficient since its launch in 2015.
Sawada told the Guardian in 2015 that he wanted his hotel, Henn na, to have a staff that was 90 per cent robotic, but according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, many of these machines are decorative hunks of metal at best and exasperating at worst. The report, published on Monday, details a number of anecdotes illuminating just how not ready the machines are to take our jobs, and they are especially ill-equipped to smoothly manage a hotel. The hotel started with about 80 robots, growing to 243, of which more than half were later cut.
“When you actually use robots you realise there are places where they aren’t needed—or just annoy people,” Hideo Sawada, president of the travel company that owns the hotel, told the Wall Street Journal.
One guest complained that he was woken up regularly through the night by Churi, a virtual assistant robot that was put in each guest’s room. The doll kept asking him, “Sorry, I couldn’t catch that. Could you repeat your request?” because it was reportedly activated by the guest’s snoring. “The robot in the room talked a lot, but we couldn’t understand,” one guest wrote on TripAdvisor in 2016. “The robot in our room is irritating,” another guest wrote that same year. “It speaks when we are in a conversation, but it could not help us when when we needed it.”
Churi, which can adjust some room settings and respond to voice commands, reportedly failed to answer some basic questions. One guest in 2017 even tried to call the front desk after “an irate exchange with Churi,” but had to use his personal phone because Churi was supposed to operate as an operator. The little robot dolls were axed.
Other robots at the hotel included puppy robot dancers in the lobby, of which one guest reported that around half were dysfunctional or dead during a visit in 2016. There were also humanoid concierge robots, but like Churi, they were also removed for being unable to answer basic tourist questions.
Two dinosaur robots at check-in were also reportedly tremendously mediocre in execution, requiring human assistance for menial tasks, like making copies of a passport, an arguably common undertaking for a front desk agent. “Yes there were robots at check in but had problems scanning our non Japanese passports so a human had to assist,” a guest wrote on TripAdvisor in 2017.
The hotel also has robots to carry guests’ luggage, but they apparently only work for a small percentage of the total rooms, can only move along flat surfaces, and are prone to wonking out if they get wet on trips outside.
“They were really slow and noisy, and would get stuck trying to go past each other,” Taishi Mito, a guest at the hotel in 2017, told the Wall Street Journal.
While the elimination of more than half of the robots is a staggering amount for a hotel hellbent on operating mainly by, well, robots, that still leaves a number of robots in operation. Though, according to the report, even the ones remaining seem more like glorified statues. “One humanoid figure is propped up at a self-playing piano in the hotel lobby without actually touching the keys.”