Date
29 March 2017
A visitor snaps Chihira behind the information counter at the ITB fair in Berlin. Organizers are showcasing robotic technology for the travel industry. Photo: Internet
A visitor snaps Chihira behind the information counter at the ITB fair in Berlin. Organizers are showcasing robotic technology for the travel industry. Photo: Internet

Meet Chihira, your hostess today, but you can’t ask her out

You can ask Chihira Kanae for directions and some other questions but don’t ask her out.

She will ignore you.

Try again in a few years when her creators will have made the almost-human robot, well, more like a human.

For now, Kanae, who has lifelike features down to her eyes, skin and long brown hair, is able only to answer a few pre-programmed questions and guide visitors to the world’s biggest travel fair in Berlin, according to Reuters.

On Thurday, she was joined at the ITB fair by another robot host Mario, a small red and white robot made by French Aldebaran Robotics, showing how they might be put to use in the travel industry, such as checking in hotel guests.

“The point is to make people smile and give them a unique experience. It’s not to take the place of employees,” Fabrice Goffin, co-founder of QBMT whose software powers Mario, told Reuters.

The Marriott hotel in Ghent has been trialling Mario, using him to hand out room keys, high-five guests and liven up meetings held in the hotel by reading out presentations.

Marriott was keen to stress that Mario will not replace any human staff.

“For now, it’s a great add-on service,” Roger Langhout, general manager of the Marriot in Ghent, said.

Dutch airline KLM is also testing a guide robot, Spencer, to help passengers navigate their way through Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, one of Europe’s largest hubs.

A survey of travellers across Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Canada, Brazil, Japan, the US and China, done by online travel and entertainment deals site Travelzoo showed that 80 percent of consumers expected robots to play a big part in their lives before 2020.

However, the survey also showed people still wanted the human touch when on holiday and in certain countries, such as Germany and France, consumers were more sceptical.

“Consumers still want humans in the picture, as otherwise there is a genuine fear that cultural nuances, humour and irony will be missed and the holiday experience could become too impersonal,” Richard Singer, Travelzoo’s European president, said.

Which is why Kanae has a bright future.

– Contact us at english@hkej.com

FL/RA

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