Ordering room service can be a lesson in embarrassment. It could arrive right after you’ve taken off your clothes, while you’re indisposed, or while you’re in the middle of other hotel-related behavior.
Thankfully, a robot butler named Relay is here to take that embarrassment (and other inconveniences) out of hotel deliveries.
Relay is basically an autonomous locker on wheels. Guests ask for an item, a hotel worker puts the object inside Relay’s compartment, and then the robot scoots over to the guest’s room with its cargo. It then calls the guests to let them know their item is ready before heading back down to the lobby so it can recharge before its next assignment.
Videos show Relay delivering everything from extra towels to late-night snacks, and claim the robot makes deliveries in half the time of human workers. Hotel chains like Marriott, Hilton, Westin, and others have all started testing the robot in select locations, and the robot’s creator, Savioke, encourages other chains to “adopt” one of its robo-butlers.
Savioke says that Relay can pay for itself within two or three months. One guest relations worker said guests “actually come and stay at the hotel specifically for Relay” while Residence Inn LAX’s general manager said favorable responses to Relay on social media increased its revenue per available room by 0.5 percent.
“The inspiration for Relay started at Willow Garage where we developed a robot that could deliver a beer —it was very cool but extremely expensive,” Savioke CEO Steve Cousins tells Inverse. “In that robot, though, we saw the value of delivery and how that simple act could help people in a variety of industries and organizations. When we formed Savioke, our goal was to create a delivery robot that was extremely helpful, yet do it at an affordable price point.”
It’s also part of the hotel industry’s efforts to use artificial intelligence and robots to please their guests. IBM’s Watson was used to create a lobby worker named Connie, for example, that Hilton Hotels taught how to recognize the emotions of its guests.
Relay doesn’t really talk — it asks for feedback via a built-in display — but that could change in the future. Savioke is working to make Relay a window to the Internet of Things, which could help it both accomplish more for its guests and learn new methods of interaction.
Maybe these robots could eventually replace many of the people who work in hotels. While this would support the idea that automation will take people’s jobs, it could also ensure that nobody else knows you ordered the calorie bomb platter.
A Savioke spokesperson tells Inverse that Relay is currently being used in “about a dozen” hotels in the United States “with more being added continually.” The robot, installation, training, and service costs roughly $2,000 a month depending on the length of the contract. Cousins hopes to expand Relay into other markets some time in the near future.
“Relay is already changing guest service in hotels. But that is just the beginning,” he said. “We are exploring many different domains and applications (i.e. residential high-rise, offices, healthcare, and logistics) where Relay can help people be more productive and satisfied in their jobs and work environment.”