These cute robots may ship your subsequent espresso

These cute robots may ship your subsequent espresso
These cute robots may ship your subsequent espresso

(CNN) — Trundling across the hallways of Hong Kong’s Cyberport innovation hub, the little Rice Robotic is on a mission.

The stocky white cuboid resembles Star Wars’ R2D2 robotic in its construct, however has the wide-eyed expression of Pixar’s WALL-E. It is delivering drinks to patrons of the HFT Life cafe in a compartment in its “head” which is unlocked by the client utilizing a PIN code despatched to their cellphone.

Whereas Rice’s operations on the cafe are restricted to distributing drinks, the compact robotic is already offering a spread of providers at venues in Hong Kong and Japan. Rice is deployed as a bellhop at Hong Kong’s Dorsett Wanchai resort, offering room service to visitors. In Tokyo, it delivers snacks to workers at SoftBank Group’s headquarters from the constructing’s 7-11 comfort retailer. Earlier this yr, Rice even made its TV debut on Cantonese drama sequence Communion, delivering espresso to a forged member.
Rice is a part of a brand new technology of sensible robots, able to navigating advanced and busy environments, together with elevators. Outfitted with mild sensors, depth cameras and ultrasound sensors to keep away from obstacles, Rice can maneuver freely round multi-story motels and procuring facilities, says Viktor Lee, founder and CEO of Rice Robotics.
Customers receive a PIN code, enabling them to open the hatch in Rice's "head" to retrieve their drinks.

Prospects obtain a PIN code, enabling them to open the hatch in Rice’s “head” to retrieve their drinks.

Rice Robotics

Describing Rice as “your pleasant neighborhood robotic,” Lee hopes it will possibly assist the hospitality sector fight labor shortages because the inhabitants ages, whereas interesting to the post-pandemic demand for heightened hygiene protocols.

“Even after COVID, individuals are paying loads of consideration to contact,” says Lee. He believes “this kind of supply robotic will see regular progress in subsequent 5 and 10 years.”

Pandemic robotic growth

With a background in logistics, Lee based Rice Robotics in 2019 to resolve the problem of “last-mile supply.”

Supported by the Cyberport Incubation Programme, Lee and his group developed Rice, the primary of its three robots. Designed for delivering items, it may be utilized in healthcare, retail, logistics and hospitality.

The pandemic created new demand for service robots, with the market rising 12% in 2020 based on the Worldwide Federation of Robotics. This opened up a brand new function for Rice: quarantine resort butler. In Hong Kong, strict laws have seen inbound vacationers quarantined for as much as three weeks, and motels have needed to provide you with new methods to attenuate human contact and forestall cross-contamination.

The Dorsett Wanchai resort began utilizing Rice robots in June 2021. “It is an effective way to serve our visitors and to take care of our service requirements whereas adhering to social distancing and anti-pandemic measures,” says normal supervisor Anita Chan, including that suggestions from visitors has been constructive: “With its cute look, Rice Robotic is particularly cherished by the children.”

During the pandemic, the Dorsett Wanchai hotel in Hong Kong introduced a team of high-tech robots, including droids for cleaning and sanitizing, and Rice for contactless room service.

Through the pandemic, the Dorsett Wanchai resort in Hong Kong launched a group of high-tech robots, together with droids for cleansing and sanitizing, and Rice for contactless room service.

Dorsett Wanchai

Lee says that in the course of the pandemic, purchasers started asking about cleansing robots. His group responded by creating a second robotic, known as Jasmine, in simply eight weeks. Changing Rice’s supply compartment with a tank of sanitizing answer, Jasmine has two spray nozzles on her head to disperse disinfectant.

Lee created a brand new persona for Jasmine — which has already been deployed in malls, convention facilities and airports — by giving her cartoon eyebrows that furrow in a critical expression. “She has to exit and sanitize the entire place, and he or she would not need anybody to get in her means,” says Lee.

The group’s third product, Portal, is a taller robotic with a contact display screen, two-way intercom and streaming cameras for patrolling public areas. In addition to making deliveries, Portal can information guests in venues resembling procuring malls, convention facilities and hospitals.

Hospitable robots

Whereas industrial robots are commonplace within the automotive, manufacturing and electronics sectors, till just lately most service robots in hospitality had been used for novelty functions.

However the pandemic has modified that, says Kaye Chon, dean of the Faculty of Lodge and Tourism Administration on the Hong Kong Polytechnic College.

In response to journey and social restrictions, “there was an exodus of workers in our trade,” says Chon. Mixed with issues about hygiene and a rising acceptance of sensible tech from youthful prospects, Chon sees robotics as the following step within the hospitality trade’s “digital transformation.”

Nevertheless, the know-how nonetheless has to beat some hurdles to attain the identical effectivity as industrial robots. Prices are nonetheless excessive for this know-how — Rice Robotics’ merchandise value from $9,000 per unit — and malls, motels, and eating places must be tailored to be robot-friendly, says Chon.

Workers additionally must know the right way to program the robots, a ability set that’s missing within the trade. To treatment this, Chon helped devise a brand new “sensible tourism” curriculum overlaying AI, robotics, and massive knowledge, however says it’s going to take time for present college students to enter the workforce. “That is the way in which our trade is evolving,” he provides.

Portal, Rice Robotics' third product, is taller with a touch screen, two-way intercom and streaming cameras for patrolling public areas — such as Captain C, pictured at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Center.

Portal, Rice Robotics’ third product, is taller with a contact display screen, two-way intercom and streaming cameras for patrolling public areas — resembling Captain C, pictured on the Hong Kong Exhibition and Conference Heart.

Rice Robotics

Rice Robotics has created a fleet administration app for customers, and helps purchasers make infrastructural adjustments, resembling programming the robots and elevator techniques to speak with one another. The startup additionally presents its robots on a month-to-month subscription service, beginning at $800 per unit, which incorporates technical and on-site help.

And whereas robots can assist to attenuate contact between folks, they nonetheless must be sanitized by employees between makes use of, says Chon.

Chon sees nice alternative for robots to carry out easy, repetitive duties in finances and mid-range motels — however the know-how remains to be a good distance from replicating the “small, private touches” that high-end luxurious properties promote themselves on, he provides.

Fast enlargement

Rice Robotics is not the one participant within the service robotic house. Danish firm UVD Robots gives robotic butlers to Yotel’s resort in Boston. US-based Relay Robotics (previously Savioke) has been constructing supply bots for motels since 2013, and Richtech Robotics’ Matradee robotic assists human waitstaff as an autonomous serving tray.
Nevertheless, Rice’s cute facial options add to its enchantment — an intentional a part of the design, says Lee. Research have discovered that human-like options enhance affinity in the direction of robots, making Rice’s aesthetic a key a part of its effectiveness within the hospitality sector for manufacturers hoping to make impression on prospects.
Lee says robots like Rice can help reduce the cost of "last-mile delivery" and increase efficiency.

Lee says robots like Rice can assist scale back the price of “last-mile supply” and enhance effectivity.

Rice Robotics

Rice Robotics has expanded quickly in the course of the pandemic, from an three-person group in 2019 to 26. Now primarily based within the Hong Kong Science and Expertise Park, the corporate opened an workplace in Japan in 2021 to assist handle its rising consumer base there. With a quickly ageing inhabitants, Lee says robots are important to help Japan’s retail and hospitality sectors.

Past hospitality, Lee sees robots changing into extra frequent in our houses, too. In a current venture with Japan’s postal service, a number of Rice items had been deployed in a high-rise constructing to assist ship parcels and mail to residents’ doorways.

“Robots aren’t taking folks’s jobs, however relatively attempting to assist hold society transferring,” says Lee, including: “Robots are the long run.”

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