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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.