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How Robots Are Changing Travel

Imagine a future where a robot checks you into your hotel, carries your luggage through the airport, and tunes your skis. Turns out, that future is already here.

Robots won't replace people-to-people customer service - but they'll definitely help us out. (Courtesy Hotel EMC2 Chicago)

Imagine a future where a robot checks you into your hotel, carries your luggage through the airport, and tunes your skis. Turns out, that future is already here.

It’s not like robots are going to completely replace humans—we still need people to offer face-to-face customer service. But at select hotels, airports, and gear shops around the world, machines of various types are being put to use. Here are a few handy things they’re doing to make your next vacation easier.

Distribute Weather Forecasts and Trail Beta

(Creative Commons)

In the lobby of the Übergossene Alm Resort, at the base of Austria’s Mount Hochkönig (from $169), you’ll find a dirndl-wearing robot named Pepper. Introduced earlier this year, Pepper will recommend family-friendly events, let you know what you can expect from Mother Nature, and suggest day outings such as lift-accessed mountain biking or guided hikes on the 200 miles of nearby trails. The hotel offers shuttle services and will even rent you a daypack and hiking boots. Elsewhere in Germany, a lederhosen-wearing robotic concierge named Sepp at Munich’s Motel One greets guests and answers basic questions in German and English (from $92).

Deliver Running Shoes to Your Door

(Courtesy Hotel EMC2 Chicago)

The Westin Buffalo, which opened in Buffalo, New York, in 2017, has a robot that’ll show up at your door toting superfood smoothies from the hotel’s café or loaner New Balance running shoes paired with beta on the best local routes (from $237). At Aloft Cupertino, in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, you can send a request via your phone and a robot butler called Botlr will bring you towels and snacks poolside after your mountain bike ride in nearby Stevens Creek County Park (from $339). At Chicago’s Hotel EMC2, two robots named Cleo and Leo will fetch you a toothbrush and toothpaste if you forgot yours at home (from $312).

Check You into Your Room

(Courtesy Main + Mountain)

There’s not actually a robot at Ludlow, Vermont’s Main and Mountain, a renovated boutique motel that opened in January 2018 (from $119), but its “invisible service” feels futuristic. Instead of speaking with a front desk staff, you’ll be emailed a personalized access code and room number, so all you have to do is walk right in. You can even make specific requests like having Vermont craft beer waiting for you, which a human will deliver. Want a real robot? At Sasebo, Japan’s robot-run Henn-na Hotel, located inside the Huis Ten Bosch theme park, multilingual machines check you in at the front desk (from $136).

Carry Your Surfboard

(Courtesy Yotel)

This year, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines debuted a test robot called Care-E that escorts passengers to their gate while transporting up to 85 pounds of luggage. The robot also has access to flight information, meaning it will update you on delays, fight status, and gate changes. Care-E isn’t ready yet for a grand rollout, but it is being tested this summer at New York’s JFK and San Francisco’s International Airport. In New York, the Yotel Hotel has self-service check-in stations and a robot called Yobot that’ll store your luggage while you run through Central Park (from $206). In Los Angeles, a robot at the new Sheraton Los Angeles San Gabriel will carry your surfboard to your room (from $151).

Tune Your Skis

(Courtesy Montana)

Robotic ski-tuning machines have been used in major ski shops for decades, but the technology continues to improve. Today, automated ski-service machines from brands like Montana and Wintersteiger can repair damaged bases, grind edges, and wax and polish your sticks just as well, if not better, than that twentysomething ski tech who’s daydreaming of his next powder day.

Filed To: Luggage / Family / Technology / Air Travel / Surfing
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.


(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.