Even Robots Can get Laid Off

By: Peter Brown

Henn-na Hotel in Nagasaki, Japan, was billed as the first all-robot hotel, using 243 robots to work the front desk, serve as bellhops and to offer concierge services.

However, perhaps proving that robots aren’t yet ready for prime time, the Wall Street Journal reported that the hotel has decided to lay off half of the robots after issues arose with guests.

Reportedly, part of the problem was that the robots couldn’t understand the customers and had trouble with identifying non-Japanese passports when people would try to check in. Also, the robot bellhops would only work sporadically, delivering luggage to the guests' rooms later than expected, if at all. Additionally, the concierge robot lost its job because it couldn’t properly answer questions about local tourist attractions. You had one job, concierge bot.

Other robots that were let go include the velociraptor bots that served the reception desk, the luggage bots after it was determined they could only reach 24 of the 100-plus rooms, and the in-room companion robots that not only had problems answering basic questions, but would also awaken during the night to sounds such as snoring or moving.

The velociraptor bot was one of the robots sacked by Henn-na Hotel. Source: Henn-na Hotel

The cleaning and landscaping crews were staffed by humans so they were unaffected, and the robotic vacuums that clean the halls were also kept. Another survivor of the layoffs was a giant robotic arm that moves luggage to storage boxes.

The hotel managers acknowledged the robots' failings and blamed outdated technology. The hotel opened in 2015 and the robots used at the time of opening are now outdated. Replacing these robots proved to be too costly versus just sacking them.

Surprisingly, given the issues with the robots among guests, the reviews for the Henn-na Hotel on Expedia and TripAdvisor aren’t all that bad, with most stating it is enjoyable and that the robots are sort of a comical novelty feature and good for kids. However, not all were impressed.

One reviewer said: “This robot hotel is badly in need of some humanizing. I think the novelty of a robot hotel is swell, but when there are questions or problems that arise, you really want to talk with someone who can address them...unfortunately, the novelty of robots at reception cannot overcome the need for real people.”

“After the novelty of being served by a faulty robot — ours developed an error and had to be helped out by a human — the hotel is pretty functional,” another review said.