This hotel in Japan offers a glimpse of a world run by artificial intelligence (AI). Would you stay here?
Tucked away in the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki Prefecture, robots roll out the welcome mat at Hen-na Hotel and a robot porter collects and transports your bags. Guests might also be surprised to find that there are no light switches or clocks in the rooms. Instead, there is Tuly, a tulip-shaped concierge robot that offers a 24-hour service whether it is adjusting the lighting or setting an alarm.
The Hen-na Hotel literally means ‘Weird Hotel’ in Japanese. This simple yet stylish high-tech hotel offers rooms ranging from functional single occupancy rooms to bigger ones for couples, groups of friends and families.
The most unique feature at the Hen-na Hotel is its reception desk, staffed by three Japanese-speaking A.I. humanoids. Non-Japanese speaking visitors are welcome by a bilingual robot dinosaur. “All our guest check-ins are handled by robots,” said the hotel’s CEO Hideo Sawada, who is an advocate of technological innovation.
Contrary to what one might expect, the atmosphere is far from mechanical and cold. “The hotel is actually very popular with families, and children love interacting with the robot dinosaur,” Sawada said.
Guests have also been so enamored by in-room concierge robot, Tuly. According to Sawada, several even asked to take Tuly home with them. “Our family-centric hotel has been very enjoyable for our guests, and the hotel has certainly generated a lot of interest,” he added.
Sawada was said he wanted to build this hotel because it was difficult to find and hire service staff. So far, he finds that replacing human staff with robots has helped to keep costs down.
“Our aim was to create a highly innovative, one-of-a-kind five-star hotel, staffed entirely with robots,” he said. “We believe that today’s global policies aimed at curtailing population growth will have massive consequences on the service industry in the future. Fewer people will opt to be in this industry, so labor costs will be very high. In fact, they are already on the rise.”
While the hotel boasts many nifty A.I.-driven experiences, guests might be glad to know that human staff can still be found on the premises. “In the case of an emergency, there are (human) security staff on the premises always on standby, ready to handle the situation,” said Sawada. “They also ensure that there are no issues of privacy or security violations at the hotel.”
There are limits to running a hotel on robots though. The robot porter for instance, is currently only able to service one hotel block. “At this point, our robots are still not yet fully able to serve customers as human staff would, but we are constantly collecting feedback on what we can improve on, so we can serve customers better in the future,” said Sawada, who remains committed to adding new technological features to the hotel.
Innovative Technologies at Every Turn
A.I. robots aren’t the only distinctive feature of this hotel.
The Hen-na Hotel also relies on facial recognition for its rooms, which essentially does away with the bother of carrying around key cards for hotel guests.
“Once guests have registered, their rooms can be unlocked by simply standing in front of a screen,” said Sawada. “However, for guests who are not entirely comfortable with this, the hotel also offers the option of a regular access card when locking and unlocking the rooms.”
Once inside, rooms come equipped with sensor panels that detect body heat, so guests can always be assured of the perfect room temperature all day.
Sawada has also ensured that the technology he’s introduced is friendly to the environment. The hotel is fully equipped with two self-sufficient electric power supply systems – one based on solar energy and the other based on hydropower. A single block with 12 rooms, for instance, can enjoy a continuous power supply for a period of one year, he pointed out.
Another case in point is the timber technology employed in the building of the hotel. “The CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) method of construction promises higher productivity, cost savings and huge environmental benefits,” Sawada said, adding that the timber used is entirely grown and sourced in Kyushu.
While robots are not strangers to many businesses, Hen-na Hotel may well be a forerunner in setting a new trend within the services sector. Could a novelty hotel one day become the industry norm?