Henn-na: the first robots served hotel in the World

By Sami Jo-Adelman
Illustration by Diego Soprana

Week 50

A hotel staffed by robots… sounds absurd right? Well, on July 17th of this year, The Henn-na Hotel (which appropriately translates to “Strange Hotel”) opened in Nagasaki, Japan (where else right?) as part of the Huis Ten Bosch theme park complex in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture.
Japanese Travel Tycoon and Hotel Owner, Hideo Sawada, insists that using robots is not a gimmick but rather a real effort to use technology to achieve the ultimate in efficiency. They also add to the fun and comfort (read comic relief) of your stay.

Photo © 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP

The English-speaking receptionist is a ferocious looking velociraptor complete with bowtie and a circular white cap. His Japanese counterpart is a female humanoid with a cream jacket, eerie smirk and an unpleasant high-pitched voice.
The hotel’s other robots include a giant robotic arm, usually seen in manufacturing, which operates in a glass enclosure behind the lobby and stores luggage in individual drawers for ¥500. There’s also a doll sized red and white “concierge” who reads out breakfast times and locations. Two rechargeable luggage trolleys act as languid hotel porters. Oh, and there is also a talking tulip robot in each room that helps turn off the lights.
Japan is a world leader in robotics technology, and the government is proclaiming robotics to be one of the pillars of its growth strategy. They have long been used in manufacturing, and now there is increased talk about their potential to interact and assist humans with their daily lives.

In April one of Japan’s major banks, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, showcased a robot bank teller in its down-town Tokyo branch in the hope that the multilingual robot will help foreign customers during the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. At the end of 2014 Nestlé employed a fleet of 120cm-tall robots to sell its coffee machines in Japanese stores (move over George Clooney).
From an engineering and design point of view, having robot staff it is a great way to test the boundaries of robot-human interaction in the field.
By having 90% robotic staff, Sawada hopes to save costs on manpower and create the most efficient hotel in the world. He believes that robots “in terms of being friendly and polite are unbeatable.” Sadawa also believes that low-cost hotels like his will take off in the same way as budget airlines, and plans to open another hotel in Japan and eventually one abroad.

Photo © 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP

Having 100% robotic staff however is seemingly impossible. The Henn-na Hotel still relies on humans for its security. The hotels security cameras are manned by real people who monitor the complex to ensure guests’ safety, and perhaps more importantly, make sure guests don’t steal any of the robots.
Whilst robots may be the future, they don’t have the same spirit of hospitality as us warm-blooded folk; “They still can’t make beds,” notes Swada. Shame. Sometimes you just can’t beat the human touch.

All Henn-na Hotel robots have been designed by Kokoro, a company that has been developing ‘actroid’ robots, for more than a decade.