These cute robots can deliver your next cup of coffee

(CNN) — Running around the corridors of Hong Kong’s Cyberport innovation hub, the Rice Robot is on a mission.

The white cuboid resembles Star Wars’ R2D2 robot in its construction, but has the general appearance of Pixar’s WALL-E. It offers drinks to the people of the HFT Life cafe in a room in its “head” that is opened by the customer using a PIN code sent to their phone.

While Rice’s duties at the cafe are limited to serving drinks, the compact robot is now providing a variety of services at locations in Hong Kong and Japan. Rice is stationed as a bellman at Hong Kong’s Dorsett Wanchai Hotel, providing room service to guests. In Tokyo, he delivers snacks to employees at the headquarters of SoftBank Group from the 7-11 grocery store. Earlier this year, Rice made her TV debut in the Cantonese drama series Communion, serving coffee to a cast member.
Rice is part of a new generation of intelligent robots, capable of navigating difficult and complex environments, including lifting devices. Equipped with light sensors, depth cameras and ultrasound sensors to avoid problems, the Rice can freely navigate around hotels and shopping malls, said Viktor Lee, founder and CEO of Rice Robotics.
Customers receive a PIN code, which allows them to open the door at Rice's "head" get their drinks.

Customers have a PIN code, they can open the door at the “head” of Rice to get their drink.

Rice Robotics

Describing the Rice as “your friendly neighborhood robot,” Lee believes that it can help the hospitality industry to fight the lack of work as a large part of the population, while asking the post-pandemic request for advanced cleaning protocols.

“Even after COVID, people are still focusing on social media,” Lee said. He believes that “this type of delivery robot will see steady growth over the next five to 10 years.”

Cancer robot book

With a focus on logistics, Lee founded Rice Robotics in 2019 to solve the challenge of “providing the last mile.”

Supported by the Cyberport Incubation Program, Lee and his team developed Rice, the first of his three robots. Designed for transporting products, it can be used in healthcare, retail, logistics and hospitality.

The pandemic has created new demands for service robots, with a 12% market growth in 2020 according to the International Federation of Robotics. This opened up a new job for Rice: quarantine hotel butler. In Hong Kong, strict regulations have seen travelers stranded for up to three weeks, and hotels have had to find new ways to reduce human contact and avoid overbooking.

The Dorsett Wanchai hotel started using Rice robots in June 2021. “It is a great way to serve our guests and maintain our customer service even when it comes to going to the lifestyle and anti-pandemic measures,” said CEO Anita Chan, adding that feedback from visitors. good: “With its cute face, Rice Robot is loved by children.”

During the pandemic, the Dorsett Wanchai hotel in Hong Kong introduced a group of advanced robots, including droids for cleaning and sanitizing, and Rice for seamless room service.

During the pandemic, the Dorsett Wanchai hotel in Hong Kong introduced a group of advanced robots, including droids for cleaning and sanitizing, and Rice for seamless room service.

Dorsett Wanchai

Lee said during the pandemic, customers started asking about cleaning robots. His team responded by developing a second robot, named Jasmine, in just eight weeks. Replacing Rice’s delivery room with a sanitizing kit, Jasmine has two nozzles on her head to spray the disinfectant.

Lee has created a new look for Jasmine – who has been featured in shops, conference centers and airports – by giving her iconic brows a dramatic look. “He had to go out and clean the whole place, he didn’t want to bother anybody,” Lee said.

The company’s third product, Portal, is a high-end robot with a touch screen, two-way intercom and streaming cameras for exploring public spaces. As with shipping, the Portal can direct visitors to places like shopping malls, conference centers and hospitals.

Host robots

While industrial robots are common in the automotive, manufacturing and electronics sectors, until now most service robots have been used in hospitality for innovative purposes.

But the pandemic has changed that, said Kaye Chon, dean of the School of Hotel and Management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

In response to the walkouts and restrictions, “there has been an exodus of workers in our industry,” Chon said. Coupled with concerns about cleanliness and growing acceptance of smart technology from younger consumers, Chon sees robotics as the next step in the “digital revolution.” of the hospitality industry.

However, the technology needs to overcome some challenges to achieve the same functionality as industrial robots. The costs for this technology are high – Rice Robotics’ products cost from $9,000 per unit – and shops, hotels, and restaurants must be converted to become robot-friendly, said Chon.

Employees need to know how to design robots, a skill that is lacking in the industry. To address this, Chon has helped design a new “smart tourism” curriculum that covers AI, robotics, and big data, but he says it will take time for students of this time to enter the workforce. “This is the way our business grows,” he added.

Portal, Rice Robotics' third product, is more advanced, with a touch screen, two-way intercom and cameras for exploring public spaces - like Captain C, pictured at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Center.

Portal, Rice Robotics’ third product, is more advanced, with a touch screen, two-way intercom and cameras for exploring public spaces – like Captain C, pictured at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Center.

Rice Robotics

Rice Robotics has created a fleet management software for users, and helps customers make technological changes, such as setting up robots and elevator systems to talk to each other. The startup offers its robots on a monthly subscription service, starting at $800 per unit, which includes technical and online support.

And while robots can help reduce contact between people, they should be cleaned by staff between uses, Chon said.

Chon sees an opportunity for robots to perform simple and repetitive tasks in banking and mid-sized hotels – but the technology is a long way from connecting the “small personals” who bought it. high-value assets themselves. .

Rapid expansion

Rice Robotics is not the only player in the service robot space. Danish company UVD Robots provides robotic butlers to the Yotel hotel in Boston. US-based Relay Robotics (formerly Savioke) has been building delivery bots for hotels since 2013, and Richtech Robotics’ Matradee robot helps human wait staff as an independent service bar.
Still, Rice’s beautiful facial features add to her appeal — an intentional part of the design, Lee said. Studies have found that human-like features increase interaction with robots, making Rice’s beauty an important part of her role in the hospitality industry for brands that want to do well in the customer.
According to Lee, robots like Rice can help reduce the cost of "last mile delivery" and increase efficiency.

Lee said robots like Rice can help reduce the cost of “last mile delivery” and increase efficiency.

Rice Robotics

Rice Robotics has expanded rapidly during the pandemic, from a three-person team in 2019 to 26. Currently located in the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park, the company has opened an office in Japan in 2021 to help managing its growth potential there. With an aging population, Lee says robots will be important to support Japan’s retail and hospitality industries.

In addition to hospitality, Lee sees robots becoming commonplace in our homes. In a new project with Japan’s postal service, rice parcels have been placed on a high-rise building to help deliver parcels and letters to residents’ doors.

“Robots are not taking over people’s jobs, but are trying to help the industry move,” Lee said, adding: “Robots are the future.”

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