The jobs picture for hoteliers improved this spring, with the sector adding 166,000 jobs between March and June. Hotel unemployment, however, has dropped only slightly from 19.9% in March to 17.6% in June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Hospitality though, as an industry, is still 2.8 million jobs shy of where it was in February 2020. Long-term labor solutions are sorely needed — answers that meet the economics, availability and career ambitions of a changing workforce.
This is where 3D-equipped robots can play a vital role. Robots are some of the most impactful and effective forms of hospitality technology that hoteliers can invest in to aid understaffed operations.
New Staffing Era
Customer-facing industries inside and outside the hospitality realm are already solving labor shortages and improving employee utilization through robots equipped with 3D imaging technology. Grocery chains have discovered that robots can provide assistance in cleaning, disinfecting, and providing stock management alerts. Restaurants have added self-navigating robots for food delivery and table bussing.
Robots are an ideal solution to the shortages many hotel properties are facing as many tasks on-site are repetitive, mundane and require nothing more than rudimentary skills. Properties of all sizes are starting to realize the practical uses for service robots—or “co-bots” as many call them, because the units work alongside humans to extend and improve performance.
A popular function behind the implementation of robotics tech is its ability to increase self-service functionality and improve customer experiences for guests. While customer service robots can be used for check-in, as roving butlers, or as hotel concierges that can book reservations or offer suggestions for local restaurants, events, and other activities.
Mobile robots can perform navigation tasks from guiding guests through a property to delivering room service, supplying pillows, blankets and towels, even as roving security guards. 3D facial authorization —a new high security technology found on most smartphones—can also be employed to recognize guests and address them by name.
Housekeeping and sanitization may be the most immediate and high-ROI use of self-propelled robots. Floorcare is a common use, enabling housekeeping staff to perform other duties while smart “co-bots” vacuum and scrub guest rooms (even under beds and furniture) as well as hallways.
Specially equipped robots can completely disinfect rooms and common areas in minutes using a variety of methods from UV light to disinfectant sprays that provide continuous protection for days, even weeks, on high-touch countertops, doorknobs, and other surfaces.
3D Adds Safety, Efficiency
3D cameras enable mobile robots to identify and, where needed, avoid obstacles and people with amazing accuracy. 3D sensors use NIR (near-infrared) light to minimize the influence of environmental illumination; this means they can accurately image at night or in darkened or even pitch-black rooms, making them ideal for security work.
3D cameras can also accurately perceive depth. This helps robots equipped with 3D to navigate easily in places populated by people and/or objects on the move. Using their depth-sensing capabilities, they can spot anomalies like an open hallway door, atypical presence of individuals in a given space, situations of concern (i.e., someone on the floor), even trash overflowing from a bin or dumpster.
When combined with SLAM (Simultaneous Location and Mapping) technology, self-propelled service bots can deliver cocktails, food and amenities anywhere in a property, with seamless avoidance of any obstacle, human or non-human. 3D camera enabled SLAM is also invaluable for guiding sanitizing robots as they scrub or spray common touchpoints.
Cobalt Robotics is one U.S. company making 3D robots available for security, facilities management and concierge services. Bear Robotics, another provider, specializes in food service deployments. Robot providers typically own their equipment and make it available on a long-term basis, with fees based on hours in operation. Costs are comparable to that of an hourly service worker, oftentimes less. There are no sick days, injuries or other disruptions; furthermore, providers assume all maintenance and liability risks.
Robots have another ROI in that they can collect data on guest preferences, facility status and upkeep, security and more. In an era of the Internet of Things (IoT), this information can be immensely useful in helping hotels run more efficiently and with greater guest satisfaction.
New Solutions Needed
No event in recent history was more pervasive or consequential than the pandemic. It remains to be seen how this calamity will change guest bookings and behaviors, hospitality economics, or competitive activity. What is certain, however, is that labor will be forever impacted—and that technology, in the form of reliable, multifunctional robotic helpers, will be part of the solution.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
DAVID CHEN is co-founder and director of engineering at Orbbec 3D Technology International, Inc.