Rosie the Robot is a reality now as hoteliers are on the leading edge of using sophisticated machines instead of human beings in the age of coronavirus. The hospitality industry is among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Despite massive losses, orders for robotics from that sector have doubled since COVID-19 arrived, Steve Cousins, CEO of Savioke Inc., producer of Relay, told The Wall Street Journal [subscription required].
Relay is a delivery bot, and Savioke is one of a number of providers competing to develop and sell autonomous machines that deliver supplies in hospitals, groceries in urban neighborhoods, and room service in hotels.
Robotics no longer a novelty as capabilities grow
"We always saw it as a good novelty. Then comes along the pandemic and people want to not interact with people," hotel investor Bob Alter says in that WSJ article published Aug. 11.
Alter told the newspaper that robots deliver items like toothbrushes or towels as many as 700 times a month at six of his hotels in California. That's twice as many as before the pandemic, he says.
It's not just room service. Real "live" Rosie the Robots are being used to clean floors, and as its maker, Maidbot, says, "Rosie cleans floors of small and large spaces in hotels, airports, malls, universities, and more. While cleaning, Rosie also functions as an indoor mobile data platform that collects and analyzes invaluable actionable business data."
Deep pockets fueling a growing "workforce"
Maidbot is backed by PayPal (NASDAQ: PYPL) pioneer Peter Thiel, and it has an interesting backstory, while Savioke has been backed by Google Ventures (NASDAQ: GOOG) since it was in stealth mode in 2014.
With ample resources and lots of brainpower, these firms are working to expand the carrying capacity of their machines -- to deliver heavy bedding, for instance -- as well as their ability to provide valuable mission-critical data.
"Their robots serve as mobile data platforms that generate a myriad of information on the building environment and operations that enables hotel operators to improve both the housekeeping and customer experiences," Ryan McLean, senior vice president with Bissell, told Robotics and Automation News.
"We have seen the adoption and impact of robotic vacuums in households, and we believe that we are going to see similar trends in commercial cleaning for spaces like hospitality and office," McLean continued.
A University of Houston study, meanwhile, predicted that robots will comprise 25% of the hospitality "workforce" by 2030. And that was in 2018, before the pandemic raised the stakes drastically when it comes to hands-off, no-sharing-air-space interactions between human beings and super-strict cleaning standards for hotel rooms and other public spaces.
Robots can't do it all, but they can save a lot
At least for now, robots can't do everything a live employee can -- like making a bed or scrubbing a toilet -- but think about all that goes into managing a hotel and how much already is automated, and how much will be in the near future.
So, how much can you save? This calculator from Relay's owner, Savioke, can estimate your return on investment. And check out Kiwibot, a company that provides what you need for "a sustainable robotic delivery infrastructure," to get an idea of how delivery trends for this technology are evolving.
Jobs lost to technology disruption; investors might study the trends
As for the broader picture, this Time magazine article talks about how many jobs lost to the pandemic may not return at all, thanks to robotics and artificial intelligence technologies that have been accelerating the automation that has been making manual jobs obsolete in surges and pulses since the Industrial Revolution.
Savvy investors may be served well by following these disruptions to where the opportunities emerge, both among operations that use these advances well and among those that produce them.