Daily Dose of iQ: Meet Botlr, Starwood Hotels' First Robot Butler

Aug 14, 2014 — Allan Pulga

TechCrunch reported yesterday (Aug. 13) on Starwood Hotels' two R2D2-like robotic butlers (called "Botlrs") serving guests at the company's Cupertino Aloft Hotel.

"When a guest calls down and asks for a toothbrush or extra towels, hotel employees simply load up the robot with the requested items, dial in the room number, and the Botlr handles the rest," wrote TechCrunch's Jordan Crook.

Botlr communicates with hotel and elevator software to get to and from rooms without breaking anything or hurting anybody.

"Using a combination of sensors and WiFi/4G connectivity to communicate with the hotel and the elevator software, the ROS-powered robot can get to and from the rooms without breaking anything or injuring anyone."

Sounds fun, no? I sat down with two of my colleagues (UX Architect/BA Collin Prior and Marketing & PR Manager Beth Gulka) to get their take on the Botlrs.

I’m surprised they don’t already have this in Japan haha. Seriously though, what do you like about this “Botlr” technology?

Collin: I think the technology is cool. It feels very "Jetsons" to me. I would totally choose to stay in a hotel with robot butlers if I had the choice. I would be thinking of an excuse to use one. I think as a marketing gimmick, this is great even if it doesn't do much. I like that the technology seems to have some built-in personality (see video on TechCrunch site). I am actually not sure they went far enough in that sense. I would have pushed the limits on the user experience.

Not only does Botlr feel futuristic like "The Jetsons," you don't have to give it a tip.

Beth: For me, the biggest advantages to Botlr are related to it not being a human being. I don't have to tip this thing. I don't have to be "presentable" to answer the door or have a tidy room. No one will judge me (at least not to my face!) when I request extra soaps, coffee, tea, etc. because I hoarded the other ones in my suitcase already...

What don’t you like? (What are the drawbacks? I imagine price would be a big one, for many hotel chains.)

Collin: I don’t like that the price for service is likely high and the duties the robot can realistically do are likely limited. There are certain things that a person would be much better at. That said, I think that a robot like this could have its place. Initially, I can see this being a burden on hotel staff. I could see a lot of people doing silly pranks that would get old fast for staff. It is typically not that hard to run something to a room but it could mean that staff could be able to stay at the front desk rather than going back and forth on small errands.

Some tasks require a human touch and attention to detail. How do I show Botlr that the clock radio isn't working?

Beth: Of course the trade-off to it not being a human is its service can feel cold and impersonal. I agree with Collin in that some tasks require a human touch and attention to detail. Also, Botlr's compartment in the video looks pretty small, which definitely limits the kind of items the robot can deliver.

Crazy things happen at hotels. What are some funny outcomes you can envision for the Botlr?

Collin: There will be people tipping over the robot, dressing the robot up, drawing on the robot, putting strange things in the robot after the delivery, kidnapping the robot, partying with the robot. I could imagine this becoming an internet meme, which could be good and bad for the hotel.

All that said, I think it's a cool idea and would be useful. We see companies like Amazon playing in this space as well. Robot/human interaction is coming and I think it's closer than some might think.

Botlr is any number of Internet memes waiting to happen.

Beth: Guests will inevitably take selfies with Botlr. As Collin mentioned, there is a lot of viral social media appeal to the robot. It's undoubtedly something people will talk about when they see it in action for the first time.

Topics: Wireless Trends, Mobile Industry, Internet of Things, Customer Experience, Retail Marketing

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