Bye bye concierge, hello Connie


If Hilton has its way, the suited-and-booted concierge with a dapper hairstyle may well become a thing of the past — and sooner than you think.

These days wearable technology is the norm and robotic bar tenders on cruise ships are no longer a novelty. Last year a hotel in Japan located within the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki, became the first to be staffed almost entirely by humanoids at the check-in desk — with the odd human overseeing operations. These robots are life-size and bizarrely one is a dinosaur. But this is a theme park hotel where anything goes. How will it work in the real world?

Meet Connie. Connie, named after hotelier Conrad Hilton, is a pint-size hotel concierge robot whose cousins may well be starring in a Star Wars blockbuster movie.

The creation of this 58cm robot was a collaboration between Hilton, IBM Watson whose technology provides speech (albeit a little high pitched right now) and WayBlazer who provide the travel database. Their mission is to create an interactive portal to be used in the hospitality industry.

According to Jim Holthouser, vice-president, Global Brands Hilton Worldwide: “Hospitality is a really interesting case for Watson because inevitably you have people who need information.”

To that end Connie is undergoing training and is in operation at the four-star Hilton Mclean Tysons Corner hotel in Virginia. From its station at the reception it remains on standby to enhance guest relations.

It (the makers haven’t assigned it a sex yet) has been programmed to respond in a friendly manner with relevant information such as restaurant recommendations, local entertainment and how to navigate the hotel. Connie also taps into WayBlazer’s database to offer far-reaching travel recommendations. As It cannot check- in guests yet. However, the more interaction there is the more Connie will be able to understand the nuances of language and non-verbal cues like body language and eye movement.

There is a monitoring system in place to identify the questions that the robot was not able to answer and in this way to grow the information on the database.

Of course there will be ramifications regarding jobs and one wonders if charm and a cheeky smile can be programmed.
Perhaps it’s time to accept that the writing is on the wall... even if it is written in binary.

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