When we last heard about Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, it was making deliveries-by-drone and developing a vending machine for cars. Now, Alibaba A.I. Labs has announced an artificially-intelligent wheeled robot that will be tending to the needs of hotel guests.
Those guests will begin the robot-room-service process by placing an order for things like food or beverages, via one of the company's Amazon Echo-like Tmall Genie smart speakers located in their room. Upon receiving that order, the one-meter-tall (3.3 ft) aluminum-bodied robot will proceed to pick up the requested item from either a human staff member or a robotic dispensing system – the latter will be used for things like canned drinks.
Utilizing an onboard floor plan of the hotel, along with laser and radar sensors that allow it to detect and avoid obstacles, the robot will then autonomously make its way toward the guest's room at a top speed of one meter per second (3.6 km/h or 2.2 mph). Directional laser markers projected onto the floor will let people know which way it's headed, while a Wi-Fi communications system will allow it to summon elevators and select floors.
Upon reaching its destination, the robot will alert the guest that it has arrived via their Tmall Genie, then use a facial recognition system to verify their identity. It will subsequently open its built-in hatch to let them access their requested item. The guest will be able to ask questions or make requests using either voice commands, an onboard touchscreen or hand gestures, with verbal answers provided by the robot's integrated AliGenie software (which also powers the Tmall Genie).
Plans call for a trial project to begin next month, in which the robot will deliver food and laundry to hotel guests. If all goes well, it may also subsequently see use in offices, hospitals or restaurants.
The system is illustrated in the following video.
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